Documents confirm April consideration of language requirement change

  • Lianne Dalziel

Documents released today confirm that the government first considered increasing English language standards for migrants in April this year, says Immigration Minister Lianne Dalziel.

The documents, released under the Official Information Act, include a Cabinet Committee paper on 15 April recommending that high priority be given to the LEK Consulting recommendation that language requirements for migrants be increased.

A Cabinet paper from April 22 shows the Minister of Immigration was asked to report back later in the year with a preliminary assessment of the impact of implementing the LEK recommendations.

"The paper presented to the Cabinet Policy Committee on April 15 noted that the LEK report suggested increasing the English language requirement for General Skills category applicants to a minimum score of IELTS 5 or 6 in each of the four modules (reading, writing, speaking and listening) as a way of facilitating labour market integration," said Lianne Dalziel.

"The Cabinet paper on April 22 recognised the risk of a policy adjustment being interpreted negatively but noted that on balance the long-term benefits outweighed the risk.

"It was initially proposed that the requirement be increased to an average score of IELTS 7, or a minimum of IELTS 6 in each of the modules, as an interim measure to prevent a surge of applications ahead of public consultation and a detailed proposal in March 2003.

" A paper was prepared to this effect, however I decided not to proceed with the recommendations, and sought an extension until the end of year.

"Research referred to in that paper showed that less than 5% of recent Business approvals would have been affected by the increases while only 28% of recent General Skills approvals were from non-English speaking backgrounds, and over half of them would have met the higher standards.

"Department of Labour research also showed that migrants who were proficient in English were earning 37% more than migrants who were not proficient.

"The paper made it clear that raising the English language standard would also help ensure that migrants have more realistic expectations of the level of English that is required for employment in New Zealand.

"The report to the Cabinet Economic Development Committee on November 11 recommended that a conclusive decision be made on the standard on the grounds that there was already evidence that the required standard was too low, and an immediate increase, as opposed to an interim increase, would minimise uncertainty over immigration requirements and instability in residence inflows.

"On 18 November, Cabinet agreed that the General Skills category should require an IELTS 6.5 average – halfway between the 'competent user' and 'good user' levels – and that Business category and Long Term Business Visa applicants should meet an IELTS 5 average – a 'modest user' level. Secondary applicants remained at IELTS 5 average (General Skills) or were increased to IELTS 5 average (Business). Pre-purchasing English language remained an option for secondary applicants," Lianne Dalziel said.

After a newspaper report suggested the General Skills category was being secretly reviewed, the papers reveal that the Minister of Immigration intended to seek the power to close the General Skills/Business stream if necessary to avoid a spike in applications. However Cabinet instead decided to bring forward the implementation of the new English language standards as well as the changes to business immigration policy.

Lianne Dalziel said the papers released today also confirmed that immigration policy is the subject of an on-going, systematic review.

"The Cabinet Committee paper of November 11 specifically notes that the proposals are the first of a number of policy measures designed to improve the outcomes from the General Skills/Business stream of the New Zealand Immigration Programme.

"This is, afterall, the stream that constitutes 60% of the total New Zealand Immigration Programme, and it is important that New Zealand benefits from these migrants and that they benefit from their decision to come here," said Lianne Dalziel.

"Like most New Zealanders I am sick of seeing professionals driving taxis like the agricultural scientist from Russia, like the pharmacist from Korea and like the IT specialist from India who are some of the real people I have met over recent years driving taxis. It is a waste of their skills and their talent, and I remain determined to ensure that New Zealand's immigration policy does not allow this waste to continue," Lianne Dalziel said.