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Minister's competence called in to question

On behalf of Tammy Bell, owner of popular migrant community website move2nz.com

Minister's competence called in to question

Nathan Guy's competency as Immigration Minister is being questioned after data received from the Official Information Act confirmed that Guy’s inflammatory claims that a ‘third of migrants were on benefits’ were wildly misinterpreted and bore no relation to official statistics.

On March 6th the new Immigration Minister Nathan Guy was interviewed on TVNZ's Breakfast programme to discuss the government's plans to favour wealthy migrants. This interview has gained importance as Mr Guy has since confirmed that this conversation was the official launch of new government policy.

During the interview the Minister confirmed "…. those [immigrants] that have been coming in previously have been very reliant on benefits. Even though they have had to have a job offer, in a lot of cases we have found that after a study we have done on the first 18 months that a third of them have ended up requiring a benefit."

The Minister went on to say that "Hard working taxpayers in New Zealand need to know that their money is being well invested, not spent on people sitting around on benefits".

At a time when the government's welfare reforms are creating pressure to reduce the number of people dependent on benefits these comments naturally caused anger and resentment to be directed towards migrants.

The Minister's comments were unusual in that they appeared to undermine the immigration department's long term goal of attracting high value migrants to invest their money and skills into New Zealand.

Tammy Bell, owner of popular migrant community website move2nz.com commented “The Minister’s comments have caused alarm with many prospective migrants, who are likely to take their valuable skills elsewhere if they believe there is a one-in-three chance of being on benefits within 18 months. Considering immigration adds between $1.9 billion and $3 billion each year to our economy, his comments were extremely damaging”.

Information used by Mr Guy was taken from the Department of Labour's Long Term Immigration Survey (LISNZ) which followed 5,144 migrants who took up residency in New Zealand between November 2004 and October 2005. Data was collected at 6 months, 18 months and 36 months after arrival.

However the LISNZ confirms in its summarised May 2009 report entitled ‘New Faces, New Futures, New Zealand’ that: "less than 2% [of migrants surveyed] had received a core benefit".

Responding to a request lodged by Bell under the OIA about his comments on "migrants claiming benefits, Mr Guy responded: "only 66% of migrants who obtained residence through the Sibling and Adult Child Category reported having a job when surveyed 18 months after taking up permanent residence in New Zealand."

Bell says she was deeply surprised by this revelation. "How can the Minister confuse 'not being in paid work' with 'claiming a benefit'? I can't imagine what more an Immigration Minister could have done to damage New Zealand's international reputation as a migrant destination”.

The Sibling and Adult Child Category accounted for just 2.5% of residence applications approved in the year to October 2005, however the Minister’s televised statement appeared to relate to all migrants coming to New Zealand.

"Even if a third of this small group wasn't in full time work, where is the cost to the taxpayer?" Bell asks. "Migrants can't claim benefits in the first two years after receiving residency and even if they did their family sponsor would be liable to pay every cent back to the government".

Official forms signed by the sponsors of family migrants applying to come to New Zealand include a declaration that they promise to provide financial support and an acknowledgement that any costs to the government will be repaid by the sponsor or they will face enforcement and court action

The LISNZ survey confirms that of these family members not in full-time work 14% were retired, 33% were caring for dependents, and 29% were studying.

While the Minister has focussed on employment data collected 18 months into the LISNZ survey, final reports confirm that nearly 10% more of the family group were employed by the end of the study, than at the beginning. The majority of family members not in work were found to be studying or looking after dependents, not ‘requiring benefits’ as the Minister has claimed.

On May 16th, in a move presented to save government $40 million per year, Nathan Guy closed the Sibling and Adult Child categories on the basis that they did not generate "sufficient economic benefit for New Zealand".

This move has drawn criticism and court action from migrant groups angry that changes were introduced with just three days’ notice.

According to Bell, these family members are vital to the successful settlement of high value migrants being actively attracted to New Zealand by the immigration department. "The family category added security, supporting highly skilled workers and entrepreneurs employing Kiwis, helping them continue to add to our economy”.

Department of Labour reports have previously confirmed that 24% of migrants intending to stay permanently leave with a major cause being lack of family support.

The immigration department is funded from migrant fees. Immigration policies introduced in January 2010 effectively cut the number of skilled workers by nearly a third, leading to a record deficit for the department calculated to reach $44 million by June this year.

Mr Guy has admitted that migrant families will be split apart by the changes he has introduced which will enable his department to recoup losses caused by the decision to significantly reduce immigration numbers, however the Minister has not offered any explanation of why his television comments were incorrect.

Summary points:
• The Minister stated that a third of migrants claim benefits within 18 months.
• Less than 2% of migrants from the study actually received benefits.
• Migrants not in work were confirmed to be retired, caring for dependents or studying.
• The Minister has used this as a reason to close the Sibling and Adult Child categories.
• Experts claim this will reduce New Zealand's appeal for high value migrants.
• Immigration adds between $1.9 billion and $3 billion net of costs to New Zealand's economy each year.


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