Q&A: Michael Woodhouse on immigration
Q + A
Interviewed by RACHEL SMALLIE
The Immigration Minister, Michael Woodhouse, has rejected a call for a further cap on new migrants.
Speaking on TV1’s Q+A programme today, Mr Woodhouse says the current policy is ‘stable and predictable’.
“The number of Kiwis leaving and coming home has gone from 2000 a month to just under 200 a month. That’s what we set out to do. The Prime Minister stood at Westpac Stadium as Leader of the Opposition and said we're going bring our Kiwis home. That’s absolutely what's happened and I think that’s a real success story.”
“We have around 40 to 45,000 residents visas issued every year, and that’s about 20% less than we did eight years ago, so I think we already have very sound policies which are demand driven and limited.”
For more of Rachel Smalley’s interview with Michael Woodhouse:
Q+A, 9-10am Sundays
on TV ONE and one hour later on TV ONE plus 1. Repeated
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SUSAN It wasn't so long ago there was a great deal of concern about the number of New Zealanders leaving for other countries especially Australia. Just two years ago official figures showed a net loss of 4,000 people. Now although the tide has well and truly turned New Zealanders are staying home and even returning from across the dish. The concern has moved to the pressure on jobs, housing and interest rates. Immigration Minister Michael Woodhouse is with Rachel.
RACHEL Michael Woodhouse is in our Dunedin studio this morning, good morning Minister. Do we need to consider do you think a cap on the number of immigrants coming here?
MICHAEL WOODHOUSE –
Well to the degree that we already have a loose cap on our residents programme that’s a very stable policy. We have around 40 to 45,000 residents visas issued every year, and that’s about 20% less than we did eight years ago, so I think we already have very sound policies which are demand driven and limited.
RACHEL But then also at the moment we have a different set of circumstances, there's a lot of pressure on consumption, it places pressure on housing. Are you looking to introduce perhaps any moves to curb foreign ownership?
MICHAEL Well firstly we ned to look at the story around net migration and as your introduction rightly points out, the number of Kiwis leaving and coming home has gone from 2000 a month to just under 200 a month. That’s what we set out to do. The Prime Minister stood at Westpac Stadium as Leader of the Opposition and said we're going to bring our Kiwis home. That’s absolutely what's happened and I think that’s a real success story.
RACHEL Sure, and about another 70,000 non New Zealanders have arrived as well as part of that figure. So yeah we might be bring New Zealanders home but there's a lot of other people coming here too.
MICHAEL Well let's firstly talk about what the Kiwis are doing. Firstly 75% of the people who have decided not to leave or who have come home weren't from Auckland. So I don’t think it's true to say that people who decide not to go on their OEs from Hokitika or Hamilton are putting pressure on Auckland house prices, and those that are coming in I think as you know really need to jump through quite a few hoops before they can get here. They are in occupations and in places where there is demand from employment and of course we have a very strongly Kiwis first policy. But it is true we also need some of those skills.
RACHEL We'll touch on that skill situation, but there are issues of course if you’ve read the Sunday Star Times this morning there's an interesting story in there which says Maori oppose greatly more than anything else, Asian immigrants. They feel they don’t understand Treaty issues, biculturalism. There are some real issues that are being caused or that are triggered by the spike in immigration.
MICHAEL Yeah I don’t know how widespread that belief is through Maori but we have celebrated the diversity that other cultures bring into our country and I think it would be a shame if we were to retrench back to a bicultural sort of a framework.
RACHEL Okay, so could we support then an increase in immigrants? What's your ideal number do you think coming into New Zealand?
MICHAEL Well the first ideal number is to make sure that we have enough New Zealanders who are skilled for the occupations that we need, and we've really invested heavily in things like IT, engineering, trade training for the rebuild of Canterbury. And then secondly we need to augment that with the appropriate number and skills of foreign migrants. I don’t think there's an exact number.
RACHEL Are we talking about potentially growing to a million here, what's the number that you would think would be a good number to grow to?
MICHAEL Well New Zealand doesn’t have and never has had as far as I'm aware a population policy. What we do have is a very strong business growth agenda that needs to be augmented by the right skills. Most of them are going to come from Kiwis, some are going to come from overseas.
RACHEL Sure, what are you doing to attract the best immigrants, because we've got some pretty tough competition at the moment from Canada and from Australia.
MICHAEL Yeah no doubt we're in a global competition for those skills, for foreign investment, for people to study at our universities, and for tourists. And Immigration New Zealand works very hard on an attraction strategy right around the world. You may recall during the America’s Cup last year there was quite a big marketing campaign into that market. We do so in other markets right around the world including the United Kingdom and we're looking closer on our doorstep now for Australians perhaps to come and assist with that skill ….
RACHEL Have you got any new ideas though about how to get the best people in here?
MICHAEL Well I would answer that question in the context of whether or not the ideas that we've got right now aren't working, and I think we do have good policies, we've got good settings, and as I say if we want stable and predictable net migration, the problem is not with the foreign migrants coming in, that is stable and predictable.
RACHEL Okay Don Liu, the businessman who was involved in the Maurice Williamson affair, he came in on the Wealthy Investor category. You met with him, should you have met with him?
MICHAEL Well I've met with a lot of people. He had some views to offer as not only a New Zealand resident who went through that process.
RACHEL He was lobbying for a change wasn't he? He was lobbying for change?
MICHAEL Well quite right, one of hundreds of people who have lobbied me in the 18 months since I've been Immigration Minister on a wide range of issues.
RACHEL But also someone who donated $22,000 to the National Party. So how did that look? Well we know how that looked.
MICHAEL We know how it looks now, it certainly wasn't known to me then. He was just another person with an idea and I listened to him without fair or favour as I do with dozens of others.
RACHEL So do you meet with him? What do they talk to you about? Are they lobbying for change to our policy?
MICHAEL Oh some do,
absolutely. I met with a group of refugees, Bhutanese and
Burmese refugees in Nelson last month with the local MP
there Nick Smith. I met with a group of New Zealanders in
St Heliers last Monday who were interested in offering their
views on what migration policies could be changed.
RACHEL Are there discussions taking place around making changes to that wealthy investor category at all? Could you look to move on the threshold for example?
MICHAEL Oh well I've been reviewing that for the past year as part of a suite of reviews in the business category. I announced changes to the long term business visa a couple of months ago and it's now been relaunched as the entrepreneur visa. There are no plans at this stage to change the investor and investor plus categories, fundamentally because I think they're working well. But there was a question mark about whether the type of investment and the place of the investment was appropriately focused, and I'm still reflecting on what we could do there.
RACHEL Okay have we got the skills mix right do you think? Are we ensuring that immigrants are meeting the jobs market here? And I raise this issue because for example at the moment we've got a shortage of class 5 heavy duty truck drivers, and that’s significant you know when you see what's going on in Christchurch, yet we've removed that as a skills shortage job from our immigration policy. Why did we do that?
MICHAEL Well we were satisfied that the industry didn’t need the skills to remain on the list and there were a number of efforts underway to make sure that New Zealanders were being trained up to class 4 and 5 licenses. But I should also add…
RACHEL But industry says now though that there is a shortage.
MICHAEL Yeah, well I should add, but it's still possible for them to have labour market tested work visas issued. They're still on the Canterbury skill shortage list, so they come in for Canterbury and help the Christchurch rebuild, and others around the country can still get those workers in, but they need to make sure that there are not New Zealanders available to do the jobs in the area…
RACHEL Okay, let's talk about refugees and asylum seekers.
MICHAEL … and that’s the underpinning investment I think of any long term business visas, that Kiwis are first in line for the job.
RACHEL Sure, let's talk about refugees and asylum seekers, will there be any movement on that front?
RACHEL On quota for a start.
MICHAEL Well at the moment we've got a quota of 750 and that was renewed last year.
RACHEL Which we seldom fill and hasn’t changed for about 27 years though.
MICHAEL Oh no we do fill it and I think that what we did was we had a lull during the Canterbury earthquakes where Christchurch wasn't going to be available to take some of these quota refugees. And also you'll remember that Mangere Refugee Resettlement Centre was used to rehouse those who were displaced by the Christchurch earthquakes. But look I think we have really sound refugee policies and I can't rule out an increase in the future.
RACHEL I want to raise an issue here because you recently confirmed that we'll be taking on 150 new refugees as part of that quota, and these aren't the refugees out of Australia, that’s my understanding but you won’t reveal their nationality. You say it's an issue of national security. Why won’t you reveal that?
MICHAEL Well that can be revealed. What happened is that four years ago there was a Cabinet paper around the quota renewal at that time, which talked about a number of things to do with the emergency situations category of which we have 150 places. That Cabinet minute said that the details of that shouldn’t be revealed and that was misunderstood as some kind of secret cohort. That’s not true and indeed just a couple of months ago I announced that a 100 of those places would be used to rehouse Syrian refugees.
RACHEL Earlier this month you wouldn’t reveal their nationality.
MICHAEL It's not about their nationality, there is no hidden cohort of refugees that have come in under that policy.
RACHEL Okay but you haven't revealed, like a week ago you said I'm not revealed – you confirmed that there were 150 refugees here or coming here. You wouldn’t reveal their nationality though. Is that still the case.
MICHAEL No that’s not true at all, that was completely misreported. What it was was that within the 750 quota there were 150 emergency places refugees for certain situations, the nature of which at that time was sensitive, and the particular Cabinet minute had that section of it redacted when it was released under the OIA. There is no hidden cohort of refugees that have come into this country.
RACHEL Will you be making changes to the quota. I'm going to ask you that again, is there any more money for refugees or housing these people?
MICHAEL Well yes there are and today I can announce two things. Firstly the rebuild of the Mangere Refugee Resettlement Centre is very close to getting underway, and in budget 2014 I can announce that we have allocated an extra 5.6 million dollars over the next four years to support those quota refugees who come in, because that hasn’t had an increase in funding for some years, and it was becoming increasingly challenging to deliver really good settlement outcomes for them. So that money will be invested through our agents to provide advice, support health issues, make sure that they are well qualified, that their children get their NCEA too and that they can become good Kiwis.
RACHEL The UN says we are under punching when it comes to refugees, we don’t take enough when compared with Australia with everybody else. Will there be any movement on that 750?
MICHAEL Well I certainly couldn’t rule it out, but that will be reviewed again in a couple of years with the Immigration Minister and the Foreign Minister. We're one of only 18 countries around the world that take UN quota refugees, and the fact is because of our small status and isolation we don’t get as many conventional refugees. We don’t get many people coming by boat obviously or landing at the airport. But I don’t think we should be punished for not having as big a problem as other countries around the world do. We also have a number of other initiatives like our Pacific categories, Samoan quota, which aren't obviously refugees quota, but those people might not otherwise come in under our skill category, so I think we do our bit.
RACHEL Minister of Immigration, Michael Woodhouse, thank you.