Lianne Dalziel - NZ Migration and Investment Conf.
Hon Lianne Dalziel
Minister of Immigration
New Zealand Association of
Migration and Investment Conference
Friday, 4 August 2000
Thank you for inviting me to speak this morning. It's a great pleasure to be able to address the NZAMI Annual Conference for the third time, but for the first time as Minister of Immigration.
For those who have heard me speak before, you will know that I have been highly critical of the previous administration for two aspects of their approach to immigration:
fixation on numbers
The ‘lack of stability’ criticism arises from the past ten years of policy swings that create confusion in the minds of those contemplating moving to New Zealand. There has been a ‘tap on, tap off’ approach to immigration that has not only hurt individuals, but also damaged NZ’s international reputation. Upon taking office as Minister of Immigration, I signalled immediately the commitment of the government to stability in the policy settings. That is the reason why I have simply rolled over the migration target for the year ahead, and realigned some of the previously announced policies, for example the RRV policy. We cannot afford to have this ‘tap on tap off’ approach anymore. People have a right to know that the rules are not going to be constantly changing, and also they have a right to know that there will be a genuine consultative approach to major policy changes.
My second criticism attaches to my view that the previous government was fixated on the numbers of people entering the country, rather than how well people have settled. It has always been my view that the only measure of the success of an immigration policy is success in terms of settlement outcomes.
Successful settlement is achieved through a variety of measures, but one is access to the community networks that citizens and long term residents tend to take for granted.
I am very keen to see the establishment of migrant settlement resource and information centres in key migrant centres in New Zealand. However, this is not only the role of the immigration service; it is also the role of the Ethnic Affairs service and of Pacific Island Affairs. Tragically, the Ethnic Affairs Service was completely run-down by the former Government.
The Prime Minister, the Rt Hon Helen Clark, has shown her absolute commitment to New Zealand’s ethnic communities, by appointing our first, ever Minister of Ethnic Affairs. The Hon George Hawkins and I are committed to working together in the areas where our portfolios coincide. The Ethnic Affairs portfolio provides a representative voice at the Cabinet table for ethnic communities, which of course goes far beyond immigration matters. Many members of New Zealand’s ethnic communities are in fact born in New Zealand, so immediate settlement issues are not relevant to them. On the other hand, support for maintaining inheritance languages and culture is of high significance to them, and these are outside the scope of the immigration portfolio.
Defining the line between the two portfolios is not an entirely straightforward task, and we are working on that issue right now.
It must also be acknowledged that there are many non-governmental agencies offering settlement services for new migrants. It's my view that we need to build collaborative projects to ensure that there is no unnecessary duplication, and to ensure that all needs are being met.
Inter-agency co-operation will begin from the top. As I said, I am working closely with Hon George Hawkins to ensure that there is an integrated pattern to settlement so that immigration does what it should be doing to make sure that the initial settlement experiences are positive ones. Part of that involves finding ways to ensure that people know what to expect before they arrive here in New Zealand. I believe that settlement begins before the decision is made to come to New Zealand, as dashed expectations invariably lead to poor settlement outcomes.
As part of the Immigration Service's efforts to focus more on settlement outcomes, we will be establishing pilot settlement programmes. I have received Cabinet approval to allocate half a million dollars from the Migrant Levy to these pilots.
We will be able to trial the different approaches, building on existing resources, in order to address the gaps that exist. I particularly want a focus on assisting business and professional migrants, to ensure that they connect with local business and professional networks.
I'm looking forward to implementing this programme because it will bring us one-step closer to providing the right sorts of services that we need to bring about those all important positive settlement outcomes.
OPTIONS FOR SETTING ENFORCEABLE STANDARDS
Before the election, we signalled our intention to create a register of immigration consultants. We said that we would be consulting with the sector in order to achieve the most appropriate format. I have been criticised by the Opposition for consulting over the range of options, but I make no apology for doing so. I believe it is important to take into account the wide range of views that exist, in order that the result is robust and enduring, and offers the best possible protection to consumers.
The discussion document on Options for Setting Enforceable Standards for Immigration Consultants has now been distributed, and is available from the NZIS website and call centre.
The submissions received so far reflect the spectrum of options presented, from strong support for compulsory registration, to doubts about enforceability. Submissions from individual migrants have ranged from condemnation to fulsome praise for their particular consultant.
I don't need to remind you that consultants that offer a quality service have much to gain from this process. Your industry does not need the 'rip-off merchants', nor does New Zealand.
Let me mention a letter that came across my desk this week. It named names, but I'm not going to do that here today.
The individual concerned was asked to send $1,000 (NZ dollars) as an initial deposit for what should have been a straight forward General Skills category application. The immigration consultant picked up the family at Auckland airport in a van, drove them to Manurewa, charging them $250.00 for the privilege. They were then told the cost of processing their permanent residency application would be $5000, plus $3000 for the job offer the consultant would obtain for them, and on top of that the consultant was to take a 10% cut of the wages they would earn for the year.
Not surprisingly, they withdrew from that consultant. The husband found a job offer himself. A new consultant submitted his work permit application, and charged $1700. Ultimately the fee was reduced by $800, with the assistance of the Disputes Tribunal.
Another consultant was found. This was not a problem money-wise. In this case, it was due to illness, that the papers were not filed and their permits expired without them being told.
This brought into the story immigration consultant number four, who again charged a lot and did little. So, it was onto consultant number five, who charged $5000 but accepted $100 a week after a down-payment of $1000.
But still this family has no residence, because the NZQA qualification assessment has not produced sufficient points. This assessment should have been undertaken from the outset. And so they write to me. It simply is not good enough. I am amazed they even want to stay here – however, it is probably that they have lost so much that they might as well.
Another key plank of this Government’s stated policy is to review the family sponsored categories.
The review has already benefited from consultation with NZAMI, although I didn't appreciate the rather cynical report that followed. Can I make it clear that this government has no intention of dropping the Centre of Gravity policy for parents. What we want to do is address anomalies in the current policy. We believe that better family and humanitarian policies have the potential to improve settlement outcomes for migrant families, thereby increasing New Zealand's attractiveness to new migrants.
Other important changes, effective on 4 September, are the changes to RRV policy, and the alignment of qualifications under the General Skills Category to the National Qualifications Framework. This work has taken longer than anticipated, but we felt that it was important that the List of Recognised Qualifications was as comprehensive as we could make it.
The good news of course is the 'front-end-loading' will make an enormous difference to those applying in the future in terms of the time it will save, and for those whose qualifications are not on the list, NZQA has undertaken to provide applicants with an assessment within a maximum of 8 weeks from lodgement.
Another particularly pleasing initiative was the recent announcement by my colleague, Hon Annette King, Minister of Health, of a Bridging Programme for Overseas Trained Doctors. This will help those migrant doctors who were disadvantaged by the policy misalignment that allowed applicants under the General Category between 1991 and 1995 to gain points for their qualifications without being assured of being able to practice in New Zealand.
I want to finish by saying that I would like to continue having a good working relationship with the Association for Migration and Investment.
It's encouraging the Association participates in consultation over developing immigration policy. It has a unique and valuable contribution to make.
One of the things I wasn't prepared for as Minister of Immigration was the number of individual cases that would be referred to me - over 2,500 each year (which doesn't include general correspondence). So if I am a bit late in responding, please accept my apologies – we are getting on top of it now, but it still takes 4-6 weeks for me to consider cases. Can I also take this opportunity to plead with you to exhaust all available procedures before coming to me – and that includes filing an application. I cannot have my Ministerial office treated as an immigration branch office. I promise that I give proper consideration to every case that comes across my desk, but it is frustrating when people haven't even asked a branch office for help.
The way a Minister approaches decisions on individual cases not only affects the individuals concerned but can also set the mood for the immigration portfolio, whatever the formal policy settings might be. As a decision-maker, I have sought to rebuild confidence in the Minister’s role by making consistent decisions that reflect the principles of natural justice and fairness. I have also followed a strict policy of not commenting on the detail of personal cases in the House or in the media. I know this is frustrating for the 'ambulance chasers' as I call them, but I do not have the right to comment without the consent of the individuals concerned.
Sadly, I don't believe the previous administration treated this portfolio seriously, ultimately leaving it to an independent Minister outside Cabinet. This coalition government regards immigration as an important economic and social tool that plays a vital role in 'reflecting our past and shaping our future'. That was the title of our policy, and I have relished the opportunity to translate policy into reality. There is still much to be done, but I believe we have made a good start, and I look forward to working with you over the coming years.