Talking Points

TVNZ’s immigration special was a great watch

The first episode in TVNZ’s Q+A series Our Future/Tō tātou anamata was a great piece of television; the kind of calm and collected debate you seldom see on ‘regular’ TV.

Hosted by Jack Tame, each Q+A special focuses on a single topic, and last Sunday was the turn of immigration. We couldn’t but welcome TVNZ’s choice, especially after none of the electoral debates dared touch on the subject (I vented about that here).

We watched the full hour and took a lot of notes. Like, a lot. The idea was to spare you watching the whole thing, but we must say, it’s worth your while. Don’t have time? Hey, we get it – and that’s why we collected our thoughts below, so scroll down after the video to read our summary.

“It’s time for a reset on immigration”

Most guests seemed to agree on this: New Zealand’s immigration policies need a review, and Covid is the opportunity to press pause and think about the future. As Massey University sociologist, Prof Paul Spooley put it, we need to reflect on the role that immigration plays in that future, from both an economic and social standpoint.

“We want to make sure that the migrants that come here improve their life, but also that New Zealanders are satisfied with the outcome,” explained economist Arthur Grimes. A reasonable comment, that kind of set the tone for the rest of the debate.

Skilled vs low-skilled migrants

Samoan-born NZ actor and screenwriter Oscar Kightley (Harry, Hunt for the Wilderpeople, Samoan Wedding) called for more humanity towards lower-skilled migrants. “The focus in our immigration policies has been on skilled migrants, but I’m here to speak up for the unskilled migrants,” Kightley said. “Those people came, and probably wouldn’t have come here under the current rules, but look at what they have brought. We need to be more humane.”

Grimes said that for many firms, the influx of immigrants has been positive across the board. Both low- and -high-skilled migrants filled the roles that the local workforce wasn’t willing or qualified to fill.

Arama Rata

“Everything we are has been shaped by immigration”

Post-war New Zealand has seen a steady influx of migrants from all corners of the world. Taking stock, Spooley said immigration had a huge impact on the country, both positive (diversity, openness, the economy) and negative (lack of social cohesion).

For demographer Arama Rata, the key question isn’t about our economy but New Zealand’s role in a global context – a safe haven for people who are forced to leave their country in search of a better future.

Arthur Grimes

“Anti-immigration is being xenophobic”

“Anti-immigration is being xenophobic. Most of the people who are strongly anti-immigration are xenophobic,” Grimes told Jack Tame. “It certainly doesn’t have a negative impact on the labour market and jobs or employment.”

While Grimes conceded that immigration can put pressure on infrastructure and house prices (something that recent research has dismissed), he concluded that immigration surges, not the level of immigration, are what cause issues.

Oscar Kightley

So… is New Zealand racist?

Enter the elephant in the room.

“I think we’re pretty racist, we don’t treat migrants well,” said Kightley. Ouch.

Rata expanded: “[Migrants] can’t access many of the tools we can access as citizens, the system is racist.” She went on to explain that racial profiling in New Zealand is a thing, giving the example of Pacifika being instantly associated to gangs, whereas migrants coming from white countries aren’t necessarily associated to white supremacy.

Kightley again: “People that are complaining about house prices aren’t thinking about Americans or British buying houses here, they’re thinking about people with Asian sounding names.”

So, is the anti-immigration sentiment building up? Sociologist Paul Spooley conceded that the risk is beginning to mount, with some parties and communities feeling very anxious about immigration, especially in regional NZ where there is very limited contact with migrants.

For Race Relations Commissioner Meng Foon, our immigration policies should be based on human rights. “We all have a responsibility in creating the environment, to help migrants participate in the society, give them the confidence and tools to participate,” said Foon. “We need to understand that New Zealand is multi-cultural.”

Kris Faafoi

Minister Kris Faafoi’s talk low-skilled migrants, investors

Then was the turn of Minister of Immigration, Kris Faafoi. Since his appointment, Faafoi has made no secret of his views on the future of NZ immigration, so a few bullet points should do:

  • Processing times for skilled migrant category visas are so slow because INZ received more applications than expected, and offices are currently busy processing MIQ exemptions.
  • Talking about applications in the “lower end” (his words), “we need to think about the long term, what kind of skills we need here 15-20 years from now.”
  • Student visas remain on hold until further notice.
  • Also, “skilled work isn’t the only path to come here”. According to the Minister, there’s an assumption that interest in New Zealand will increase once the borders have opened, especially from investors. How would investor visas work for New Zealand moving forward? “It’s about keeping an eye on the sustainability of the investment and the sustainability of the jobs they create long-term.”
  • Talking about businesses who traditionally rely on immigrants, Faafoi said the Government needs to have conversations with them, understand what skills they’re looking at, and how they can get the local population upskilled.

“New Zealand used to be very dull and boring”

Finally, allow us to end this pretty serious article with a giggle.

When asked what New Zealand’s ideal population could be, economist Arthur Grimes responded: “New Zealand was very dull and boring when there were just 2 million people. No restaurants, no coffee… so I don’t believe that the fewer, the better. It’s more lively now.”

Does he have a point here?

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