The Nation: Patrick Gower interviews Michael Woodhouse
On The Nation: Patrick Gower interviews Michael
Youtube clips from the show are available here.
Immigration Minister Michael Woodhouse admits the figures on the cost of parents of migrants allowed into New Zealand are 3-4 years old. He says there will now be a review into what the current costs are.
The Minister says this week’s cuts to immigration numbers won’t affect house prices or traffic congestion in Auckland.
Gower: Michael Woodhouse, thanks for joining us this
morning. I want to start by asking you a few practical
questions, Minister, about how this will work. Will it make
a difference, for instance, to traffic on the Auckland
Michael Woodhouse: Well, probably not, because the overwhelming majority of people gaining residence are already here.
So will this change, make a difference to house prices in any way?
Well, it’s not designed to. We’ve reviewed the residence programme—
Okay, well, what about schools? What about schools and hospitals and the pressure that we know are on those? Will this make a difference to that? Will this make a difference to the waiting lists? Will it make a difference to those people that don’t have classrooms, the schools that don’t have classrooms?
Well, look, the classrooms are being built, the hospitals are being redeveloped, the demand is being met, but what we have—
Will this immigration cut help it or not? Yes or no, really?
Well, it’s not designed to. It’s designed to help the government—
What is it designed to do, because—?
I’ll answer that question.
What is it designed to do? Because those are the kinds of things that are concerning people about immigration, and it’s not going to help any of them?
Well, what it’s designed to do is help the Government plan for the sorts of range of demand for residents that we have. We’ve done this for about 15 years, and it’s just a normal review. We have three broad categories of residence, that’s our humanitarian obligations, our family and partnerships—
I understand that. I understand that it’s fitting with everything. So does everyone watching, but it’s not going to actually—
I’m not sure that they do, Paddy. It’s really important.
It’s not going to make a difference to what they’re worried about.
This is a very important—
This is a very important way to explain why we do what we do. Because we live in a globalised world, a lot of the people that we have here weren’t born here. A lot of their partners and spouses and children are also coming from overseas, particularly given that we travel the world and we often find our life partners somewhere else. We have our Pacific and humanitarian obligations. So we’ve always had, broadly, this number of people coming in. What we saw last year was a spike, and the projections are that will continue if the settings aren’t tweaked. That’s what we did this week.
Let’s look at one of the concrete changes you’ve made, which is around parents and family reunification. You’ve said that these people are costing the taxpayer millions of dollars. Can you tell us exactly how many millions and how they’re costing that? Because we know that they don’t take benefits.
That’ll be the subject of a review, which we’ve done periodically.
So do you—?
When it was last looked at—
Do you know? Do you have a figure?
Broadly, the last time we looked at that, we did see that there were high levels of health care costs.
When was that?
Oh, three or four years ago. It was the reason why we closed one of the parent categories, and it was also the reason—
Okay, well, let’s just stop. So you’ve got no figures right now on how much these people are costing New Zealand? You’re saying they’re costing millions, but you’ve got figures that are three to four years old.
That’ll be the subject of the review that we’re going to do over the next few months. What we did this week was take steps to make sure that the long-term average of residents visas granted was maintained. There are two broad areas where we can do that. One is in the capped family category, which includes parents, and the other is in the skilled migrant category. So we did both.
On those parents, when you said this week that they cost the taxpayer millions, you don’t have any actual evidence of that, do you? Any current evidence right now?
Well, look, those reviews have been done in the past.
Three or four years ago. I’m talking about right now, 2016, do you have a cost to the taxpayer of the parents, yes or no?
We will certainly be analysing that as we understand what we’re going to do in terms of policy changes. These are policy changes.
Because, with respect, shouldn’t you have analysed that before you cut them off?
We haven’t cut them off. We’ve taken a temporary pause—
You’ve blocked them. You’ve paused them or whatever.
Shouldn’t you have done the research before that?
I’ll just explain that, because I think it’s important. There are other ways parents can come in. We have a parent and grandparent long-term visitor visa, we have a resident visa which for people of means can come and stay, and there are other ways that parents can come and go.
But it just looks to me like a cheap shot here. You’re blaming these grandparents. You’ve done no research. You’ve got no numbers. It’s Winston Peters kind of stuff.
We do have the numbers, and I want to explain that to you.
This is Winston Peters kind of stuff.
When the parent category was last reviewed, what we did see was that the health care costs by them were about three times higher than in, for example, the skilled migrants. We also saw that there were very high levels of income support, both two years and five years after they came here. I can’t remember the exact numbers in millions of cost of income support, but we will be updating and analysing that as part of the review.
But are these people really the problem, the grandparents? Are they really the problem when we’ve had sort of 94,000 non-New Zealanders as migrants last year? Are these parents, a few thousand parents, really the issue?
Well, I’m not sure where the 94,000’s come from.
Statistics New Zealand.
Well, Statistics New Zealand produce an awful lot of data. The most common referred to is the permanent and long-term net migration data, which, of course, also includes New Zealanders, and then—
We’ve taken New Zealanders out of this figure.
That could well be right.
Well, I want to pick up on one thing there, and that’s something that I’ve asked the Prime Minister about and others as well. 5900 work visas for tour guides — I’ve asked the Prime Minister about this. Why have we granted so many visas for tour guides?
Look, I think it’s easily explainable. Our tourism industry is going aggressively at the moment. We are seeing hundreds of thousands more people from countries that don’t speak English who are wanting to visit our country and spend billions of dollars here. It’s our number one export earner right now. So it’s not surprising that we need a few people to help in terms of the way in which those people are facilitated, particularly when they go on guided tours.
And is it the same with chefs? Is it the same with chefs as well? You know, you think we’re bringing in the right number of chefs here — a couple of thousand?
Well, look, again, when there is very strong growth in tourism and hospitality, obviously those people are going to need to be fed while they’re here, so it’s all a symbiotic process. And so the numbers are going up over a number of categories, and, again, that shouldn’t surprise anyone.
So you don’t think there needs to be a cut in the work or the student visa areas as well to match what you’ve already done?
Well, as I said, the essential skills work visas which comprise the labour market test, either by having a skill shortage — an occupation on the skills shortage list — or by the employer physically going and checking whether there’s a Kiwi available to do the job, the numbers of those visas have gone down in our time in office.
Because what some of this looks like is if you’re not adjusting with the student visas, you’re not adjusting with the work visas, you’ve taken this gigantic swipe at the grandparents that you’ve got no research on. It looks as if you’re reacting to polls. It looks as if you’re reacting to public pressure. It looks as if you’re reacting to political pressure.
Well, look, that’s just nonsense. This is a very normal review that we do from time to time. No one’s taking a swipe at anybody. There are limits to the way in which we can control the residents, particularly because of our humanitarian obligations, and those family and partnerships.
And just on the student visa issue, if we look at this sort of wave that’s coming in in terms of applying for permanent residency, some of that is obviously to blame with the high number of student visas that have come in, isn’t it? Students who are wanting to stay on who are applying for permanent residency. Is that what some of this is designed to catch?
I think some of the pressure has come from that area, but we have an international education programme that is designed to deliver good education, not residency.
But as you say there, some of the pressure has come from that, hasn’t it, students finishing their time and wanting to stay on and wanting to get on that pathway to permanent residency?
Yeah, and for those who have the skills that are in short supply in New Zealand and qualify under the skilled migrant programme, that’s always been the case. I think the long-run average is fewer than 20% of the people who study here actually get to stay, for a variety of reasons, not just the skilled migration category. Some of them actually find their life partners here.
But will some of them find it harder now that they’ve got to pass the English test, that they’ve got to get the extra 20 points?
Do you think some students will find it a bit harder to stay on?
The standard for English hasn’t changed. It’s just the method of establishing that. But the increase in the points for skilled migrant resident visas could result in fewer graduates qualifying. But as I say, the goal of international education is to get a good education.
So basically students will find it a bit harder to stay on, won’t they?
That’s possible, yeah.
Is that sort of ripping them off? Because we know they do come for education, but they also come for that pathway to residence as well. Do you feel that some of them might be thinking that they’ve been misled by this, by this government?
Well, if they have—
It’s changing the goalpost, to use a very New Zealand term.
If they have an expectation of residence at the end of their study, that’s not an expectation that the government has set, so I don’t accept that we have participated in that misunderstanding.
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