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Cunliffe: Immigration vital for prosperity

Hon David Cunliffe Minister of Immigration

Immigration vital for a prosperous future Opening address

Pathways, Circuits and Crossroads: New Research on Population, Migration and Community Dynamics, National Library, Wellington

It is an exciting time to be working in immigration and an exciting time to be Immigration Minister. We are in the midst of the biggest overhaul of immigration policy and laws for 20 years.

Immigration Change Programme

The global immigration environment is changing. Immigration today is not what it was 20 years ago when the current Act was originally designed.

Four key drivers of change facilitated the Immigration Change Programme:

Circulation – there are now greater people flows around the world. In general, people are more transient now than they were 20 years ago.

Competition – the global competition for skills, labour and talent. As labour mobility increases, countries will increasingly compete for migrants.

Diversity – New Zealand is becoming more culturally diverse. One in five Kiwis were born overseas. We must identify what this diversity means for our communities and respond by ensuring the best settlement outcomes for migrants.

Heightened risk and pressure on the border – Unfortunately, a sign of our times is the heightened threat of international terrorism, illegal migration and trans-national organised crime.

Faced with this new global environment, the government has initiated an Immigration Change Programme.

It isn't simply about keeping up with the times. This is a long-term vision for immigration that acknowledges its importance to New Zealand and manages the risks. It is based on three core elements or "pillars:"

First – the legislative base – this includes a vigorous review of the Immigration Act, to be introduced shortly and passed by early next year, as well as the recently passed Immigration Advisers Licensing Act. It won't be long before this doorstop hits town. I promise you it will be worth the 20-year wait.

Second – the substantive policy mix – that is - developing a new Immigration Policy Framework. It has included a review of seasonal and non-seasonal work policies, work to residence and the Skilled Migrant Category.. Work is also underway on a number of other areas including the Investor policy, Family-sponsored policy and temporary migrant flows.

Third – the operational side – this involves the development and implementation of a New Business Model for the Department of Labour with associated service enhancements. The themes for our new business model are: Quality. Consistency. Control. Public confidence. Getting this right is essential for turning good law and good policy into excellent outcomes for New Zealand.

Immigration is also an important part of the Labour-led government's key policy themes of economic transformation, families young and old, and national identity.

Let me take you through them to discuss why.

Economic transformation

Immigration is a key lever in our quest to transform the New Zealand economy so that all New Zealanders, young and old, will have a prosperous future.

Why is it a key lever? Because we are short of the workers and skills we need for that transformation. Immigration also tends to bring with it other resources for transformation: capital, technology and skills transfer and access to international networks.

We know that we have high levels of skill shortages in difficult parts of the economy, from information technology to tradespeople like electricians and builders.

We know our population is aging.

And we know we can't sustain the economy we want without the skills and investment that migrants can bring.

So fostering immigration is a no-brainer.

Of course, one must choose the right people. That implies an immigration policy that shifts away from passively accepting whoever turns up and asks to live here to an active immigration policy where we go out and recruit the people we want.

However, we are not alone. We are in competition with many other countries who are doing the same thing, some of whom are actively recruiting our own best and brightest. So we have to lift our game.

With that in mind, it will be good to get the perspective from this afternoon's session on migrant mobility, settlement patterns and labour markets, and later this afternoon, the Immigration Change Programme.

Many of you will have mortgages or be trying to get on the home-owning ladder, so you will be familiar with the debate over interest rates and monetary policy and the claims that immigration fuels inflation.

Well, that may be partly right at this time of very low unemployment and a booming economy, but nonetheless the impact of immigration on inflation is likely to be relatively small.

While we have approved allowing between 47,000 and 52,000 new migrants a year under the various streams in recent times, many New Zealanders are also leaving, attracted by the bright lights elsewhere that we are competing with.

In the 12 months to March 31, the net inflow of permanent and long-term arrivals was only 12,100 people. Without our immigration programme, we would have an economically unsustainable net loss of people. We are, thankfully, winning on the global "brain exchange".

Despite our need for migrants, my intention is to concentrate on quality settlers, not quantity for its own sake.

Clearly, immigration is something the Reserve Bank takes into account in setting interest rates along with the housing market, the exchange rate, the unemployment rate and many other things.

The government must have regard to the macro-economic environment when setting immigration levels, particularly for permanent residents because new residents, among other things, come here wanting to buy a home like any other Kiwi.

Our ideal is to maximise the skill level of new migrants and to address specific and known areas of skill shortages while ensuring the overall level of migration is compatible with the best broad macro-economic policies.

As minister I take all of these factors into account when migration numbers are being decided. An update of our settings can be expected in the near future.

Families young and old

Families young and old is the second of the Labour-led government's three key themes and it is also a theme of this seminar tomorrow morning.

As a government we understand how important families are and how important it is to immigrant families to be able to maintain a close relationship with family members living overseas.

While the skilled/business resident stream makes up 60 per cent of our new migrant approvals, 30 per cent enter under the family sponsored stream (with the remaining 10 per cent the international/humanitarian stream). Family members of course also accompany principal applicants in the other streams.

The government is aware that the demand for family reunions is high and there are quite long queues for residence in the family category. This is likely to remain an inevitability, given that for most new migrants welcomed here, there will be close family members who will want to follow.

It is not the government's intention to reduce the proportion coming under the skilled/business stream, to the contrary that is the most vital stream for the economy. But I have asked the Department of Labour to look at the skills level of family members of migrants to see what policy settings are best there and how good our data is.

I will be seeking to progress some optimal improvements in the family stream over time, to ensure it is working as well as it should.

There are times when families, wherever they are from, need to be together, be that for weddings, funerals, the birth of a new baby, a graduation or a milestone birthday. We will increasingly need to reflect that in terms of our short-term entry policy if we are to remain humane and competitive in terms of other countries we compete with.

With so many new migrant families in recent years, we may need to look at helping to meet family reunion demand through our temporary entry policies, rather than increasing pressure on permanent residence.

I have asked my officials to look at this as they progress the review of the family policy.

But this Labour-led government will always have a commitment to family reunification, because families are the essential basic building blocks of society.

National Identity

The third of the three key government objectives I have mentioned is also very well covered by this seminar – National Identity.

Even a decade ago, National Identity would at best have been viewed through a bicultural prism, and not many years further back, as an offshoot of our colonial past as a scion of Mother England marooned in the South Pacific.

As we walk down the streets of any of our big cities and many smaller towns, it goes without saying that that old perspective today is patently ridiculous.

New Zealand's identity and its future now depends on us establishing a clear and exciting value proposition for the rest of the world that is firmly rooted in who we now are.

I am honoured and take pride in representing New Lynn, the second-most ethnically diverse electorate in New Zealand. One in three of my constituents was born outside New Zealand.

We no longer talk about tolerance, because the paternalism embedded in that word is redundant. We talk about respect, about celebration of diversity, about weaving the many threads in our heritage into one integrated, dynamic garment fit for the future.

Immigration: sustainable, well-managed immigration that contributes skills, talents and knowledge to New Zealand's future, must be part of that identity.

Conversely, ensuring we walk the talk of celebrating that diversity will be a key factor in ensuring we are a desirable place to live for the talent pool we are competing to recruit.

I see New Zealand as a funky place where it's OK for people to be themselves, whoever they are, to raise a family in peace and promise, hardworking, creative and exciting.

It's a place where it's expected that members of all the world's great cultures and religions can sit down together and enjoy each other's food, music, entertainment and company whether in each other's homes or at public events like the celebration of Diwali, Pacifika, Chinese New Year, Anzac Day, Waitangi Day or local festivals like the wonderfully rich New Lynn Festival of Cultures in my own electorate.

The exciting thing about the future is that it hasn't been written yet. But we will never maximise our potential as a Pacific nation unless we celebrate all that everyone here has to offer.

Research

This is a seminar about research.

Getting from where we are now to where we want to be in the future requires a map and it requires compass bearings.

The compass bearings are set by our ideals, values, respect for diversity and sense of a fair go for all.

The map requires a deep understanding of both the international context in which New Zealand exists and of our social and economic interests.

These days, a map that provides only the detail of a world wall atlas and has no street directions just doesn't cut it.

We need research to help us with the street directions, to inform us of such things as what migrants contribute to our society and economy.

For example, research by the Department of Labour has found that has found that 81 per cent of employers are impressed with the performance of their skilled migrant staff.

Other department research found that 93 per cent of the skilled migrants are happy in their first months as residents in New Zealand, and 79 per cent either "very satisfied" or "satisfied" in their new jobs.

That research exploded the myth propagated by some troglodytes who say migrants are not good enough or don't have the skills to work for New Zealand employers.

Only a fortnight ago, I released another research report that showed skilled migrants were much less likely to be on a welfare benefit than their Kiwi-born neighbour.

That research exploded the myth that we are letting in migrants who place a burden on our social security system under our immigration programme.

I welcome the department's longitudinal research that gives us information on how, when and where migrants are settling in New Zealand because that gives us valuable information so we can plan for infrastructure needs such as schools, hospitals and other public facilities and programmes.

I am delighted that this seminar will be drawing together quality research that makes a positive contribution to our national identity and welfare.

Conclusion

New Zealand needs immigration. It has never been clearer that immigration is more important to New Zealand's economic future today than it has ever been.

Our future depends in part on our getting the best we can as a nation from the talents and cultures that migrants bring. But there are policy and operational challenges.

The international mobility of skilled migrants and the aging of the population in New Zealand and most like countries means that getting the best migrants means we have to shift to more active recruitment policies.

The government's policies must rise to the challenges. That is where the Immigration Change Programme, which you will hear about this afternoon from Stephen Dunstan, comes in.

I am tremendously excited by the job we face. There are few areas like it where on can add so much to New Zealand's future.

But there is much we don't know and much we can learn, and this seminar will be excellent for helping plug those gaps. I look forward to learning from what will be shared here over the next three days.

ENDS


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