31 August, 2012
Speech to the 2012 New Zealand Association for Migration and Investment
Good morning and thank you for asking me along to speak to your conference today.
Can I acknowledge Tuariki Delamere, MC for the Conference, and Simon Laurent, Chairman of NZAMI.
Today I want to speak to you about a range of important immigration issues that I’ve been working on as Minister over the last nine months since I took on this very important portfolio.
In particular I want to touch on:
- changes we have made to family policy
- Immigration New Zealand’s Vision 2015
- encouraging export education
- mass arrivals legislation
- and the role immigration can play in boosting the economy.
Rebuilding Canterbury is one of the Government’s four main priorities for our second term in office.
It's the single biggest economic undertaking in New Zealand’s history, and thousands of trained and qualified workers will be required across a range of industries.
Our first priority will continue to be jobs for New Zealanders, but we have to accept that we just don’t have enough people with the right skills to do it all ourselves. We will need a lot of specialist overseas workers in the coming months and years to come.
The Canterbury Skill Shortage List highlights occupations currently on the Immediate and Long Term Skill Shortage Lists that are needed for the Canterbury rebuild.
Suitable applicants who meet the requirements of these occupations listed, and who have a job offer in Canterbury may be granted a temporary work visa without a labour market check.
This is about ensuring that policies are in place to support firms where there are identified skill shortages.
We’re also trying to do what we can to ensure a streamlined approach for these employers so that they get the workers they need as quickly as possible.
Many applicants have been able to meet the criteria and over the last year more than 300 people have been granted visas for work associated with the Christchurch rebuild.
What I want to ensure is that Immigration New Zealand has the systems in place to quickly and efficiently process the entry of migrants who are required when the pace of the rebuild increases.
I believe that Christchurch has a hugely exciting future, as anyone will be able to see from even a quick glance at the Recovery plan launched by my colleague Gerry Brownlee last month.
Across Government we are working to support the rebuild, and another initiative I’ve announced recently is increased work rights for international students in the region.
This trial will apply to those who attend quality education providers and will run for 18 months. Under the policy, students will be eligible to work 20 hours per week provided they are studying an English Language programme of at least 14 weeks duration or a Level 4 Foundation Certificate of one academic year’s duration.
The export education sector in Christchurch has taken a real hit because of the earthquakes.
I’m confident that this pragmatic move will give students yet another reason to choose Christchurch, and also have the added bonus of stimulating other sectors of the economy.
Family policy changes
One of the bigger changes in immigration policy I’ve announced this year is around family policies.
My priority as Minister is to maximise the economic value that immigration delivers to New Zealand, and these changes help achieve that.
They will be an important tool in attracting and retaining skilled migrants, while at the same time eventually saving the taxpayer around $40 million a year.
We want to ensure that the focus remains on giving priority to migrants who can make a real contribution to New Zealand.
As you know, there will be a new two-tier process for the parents of New Zealand citizens and residents who want to migrate here. Applications from parents who have higher income sponsors, or who bring a guaranteed income or funds, will be processed faster than other applications.
As a result, many skilled migrants who have residence here can sponsor their parents and will receive a quicker decision with less red tape.
You will have got the picture now that we are very focused on attracting migrants who will bring the most economic benefits to New Zealand.
Investor policies and IGMS
Another good example of this is the investor migration scheme, which is designed to attract more business migrants who have the commercial nous and global networks to create jobs and grow our economy.
Since it was revamped in 2009 the scheme has attracted almost $1 billion in actual and potential investment funds, which is a very impressive feat.
These policies are about being innovative and doing everything we can to address the fall in the number of migrants coming here, as a result of the global economic slowdown. We have to be smart, nimble and creative to ensure we stay ahead of our competitors in attracting the talent we want.
This is also why we are investing $75 million into the new Immigration Global Management System (IGMs).
This is a state of the art ICT system that will deliver quicker, more responsive and secure immigration services. It’s a good example of what the Prime Minister meant when he said that the public sector needs to make greater use of technology to deliver better services.
I’m confident that IGMS will transform the way Immigration New Zealand does business and help put us on a level playing field with our competitors. You’ll really start to see the benefits of IGMS next year when the first elements of the new system are delivered and students will be able to apply online for visas.
Applications will be processed even faster. Once IGMS is fully implemented in 2015, customers who apply for New Zealand visas will have their own personal online immigration account, which means they’ll be able to track the progress of their applications - just as we can all do now if we apply for our car registration online.
There will be fewer visa types and application processes will be simplified so it will be a win-win situation for the customer.
Once again, this fits with the Government’s focus on attracting migrants who will bring the most economic benefits to New Zealand - skilled workers, business people and investors, academics, entertainers and students.
Attracting skilled migrants
There are some other important initiatives underway to attract skilled migrants.
Around a month ago I unveiled the revamped ‘New Zealand Now’ website, which has been a crucial part of INZ’s attraction marketing activity for several years.
Its purpose is to attract people with the skills New Zealand needs, to capture their details, and from there to move them along the migration pathway.
The redeveloped website features videos of migrants telling their own stories, and uses technology to send targeted messages to people depending on the part of the world they are viewing the site from.
On top of this, the new, upgraded ‘SkillFinder’ helps prospective migrants to find work in New Zealand.
This is a tool which helps employers with a skill gap to connect with prospective migrants.
The New Zealand Now database contains the details of over 175,000 people from around the world, with around 1,000 potential new migrants entering the pool every week.
SkillFinder allows employers to search the database, not only by occupation, but also by years’ work experience, and the country in which they gained their experience and academic qualifications.
This means that employers can see how many people with the skills they need are in the database, and how transferable those skills might be.
I want to say a few quick words student visa fraud which was uncovered by Immigration New Zealand officials in Beijing. This strikes at the very heart of one of the key things we are trying to do - boost the number of people who see New Zealand as the first choice for study because of our deserved reputation as a centre for academic excellence.
However, I would point out that the discovery shows there are robust systems in place. You will appreciate that it’s always a delicate balance between processing applications as quickly as possible, while ensuring that they’re verified to ensure they’re genuine.
This is the sort of risk management Immigration New Zealand staff are having to apply all over the world. The discovery of the fraud in Beijing shows that the system is working.
It’s important that the investigation gets to the bottom of what went wrong in this case so that we can learn from any mistakes. The importance of export education to the New Zealand economy cannot be underestimated. The industry already generates $2.3 billion for our economy and we have an ambitious target to double the value of the sector over the next 15 years.
Other student measures
You may be aware of the other practical measures we have put in place to encourage international students to come here.
Changes to health screening which will cut costs and red tape have just come into effect. International fee paying students no longer routinely need to provide full medical certificates and will only be screened for TB.This will greatly reduce the cost and hassle for more than 60,000 students who will save around $17 million a year in medical costs.
To mitigate any impact on health services, Immigration New Zealand will require the student to hold appropriate medical insurance. But this will not be an issue for most students, as they are ineligible for health services in New Zealand and education providers are required to ensure they hold insurance.
I’m convinced that these initiatives - combined with recent improvements in processing times for student visas - will make a huge difference to growing our export education industryand help us achieve our ambitious targets.
Another issue this year has been the Government’s legislation around irregular mass arrivals.
This week the Select Committee released its report into the Immigration Amendment Bill, along with minority reports from Labour and the Greens
New Zealand has been lucky so far in that no boats have reached our shores, despite some indicating they wished to. Distance has protected us, but this is no reason for complacency.
In 2010 a boat carrying nearly 500 asylum seekers reached Canada. If they can make it that far, they can certainly reach New Zealand.
The recent Exercise Barrier on Auckland harbour showed us what a major operation it would be dealing with such an arrival. We want to send a strong message that New Zealand is not an easy target for those engaged in the cruel and dangerous business of people smuggling.
Last week I was in Australia where this topic has been a major political issue. With the Houston report there is now closer political consensus with Australia moving back to offshore processing.
I visited the Villawood detention centre in Sydney and saw for myself how a detention centre operates.
This year has seen a surge in the number of boats targeting Australia, with over 7000 people already arriving this year. That is a record number and we are still only in August.
The journey by sea is extremely dangerous and many people have lost their lives already. Make no mistake, people smuggling is a cruel and ruthless business.
It’s too early to say whether or not the Australian policy changes will have any impact on the likelihood of illegal boats targeting New Zealand, but we should not rule it out.
It’s important that New Zealand is prepared, and I’m hopeful this legislation will be passed through Parliament by the end of the year.
Finally, I want to mention how much hard work has gone into improving the performance of Immigration New Zealand over the last few years.
I’m very pleased that we’ve seen:
• an increase in client and employer satisfaction
• much better processing times, and
• and a marked increase in the quality of decision-making.
I’m proud of how far we’ve come, but I want you to know that we’re not stopping there - we’re looking to be even better.
Thank you again for asking me to open your conference and I look forward to any questions you might have.