Dear Prime Minister Hipkins…8 Feb 2023

Congratulations on your promotion, and for this timely opportunity to contribute our 30+ years of experience in New Zealand immigration work to help inform your thinking about your approach to the immigration portfolio.

Historically the immigration portfolio was seen as somewhat of a poisoned chalice, and it was not – until the first John Key government in 2008 that this approach changed, and immigration began to be viewed more as an economic tool rather than just a means to protect New Zealand jobs. The immigration portfolio has since developed into one of significant strategic importance which influences many aspects of New Zealand society, workforce and the economy. Immigration is now a key Government portfolio.

Looking at the big picture.

New Zealand should not rest on its laurels and expect that it continues to be one of the most desired migrant destinations, as it is not, and we are trending backwards. In fact, we will be doing well just to hold onto the new migrants that we do initially attract to this country.

We are an aging population and, by 2028, 1 in every 5 people will be 65+ years. Our birth rate of 1.6 children is well below the replacement rate of 2.1. Our rural townships are losing infrastructure and services, and while our schools need more teachers now, in a few years’ time school rolls will be declining and these teachers will need to find other jobs or go overseas. Family and lifestyle have always been the main reasons migrants choose New Zealand. However, these alone may not be sufficient to attract and retain the people and skills our country needs to maintain our living standards, let alone to grow. We need younger people who can contribute more, and for longer, to New Zealand.

New Zealand must attract the migrants it wants, and needs, in an increasingly competitive and dynamic international market, and one where people can now work-from-home anywhere in the world. We no longer enjoy the competitive advantages we once had, but one thing within our control is to make the immigration process easier and quicker, and world-leading, and to promote “the visa process” as one reason to choose New Zealand. Online visa applications, and the move to more automated assessment processes, will help but there is a very long way to go.

One area which would help is for the Government to engage in more robust and well-planned policy settings, and to pressure-test such settings before these are implemented. It is acknowledged that policies have been necessarily “reactive” over the past 3 years but there have been too many instances of back-tracking of newly introduced policies when better planning and consultation would “get-it-right-first time”. The new Active Investor Policy should be first on the chopping block!

We also need forward looking policies which are fit-for-purpose in today’s world. Policies which focus on enabling the most desirable migrants the opportunity to experience New Zealand and, if they choose to stay, then great. We should not demand that these people commit indefinitely to stay.

The Productivity Commission report into immigration recommended a Government Policy Statement to set a clear strategic direction for immigration policy. This would be a good start and provide some overriding guidance (ideology!) to inform policy settings with a focus on what immigration can deliver for the good of New Zealand in the longer term.

What about a work-from-home in-NZ visa? People could live in New Zealand and work anywhere in the world, now that would really put New Zealand on the map! Yes – Prime Minister!

Link: First published in Waikato Business News January/February 2023 Volume 31 Issue 1 Page 13