Immigration Tomorrow!

  • David Cunliffe

Address to the New Zealand Association for Migration and Investment, Sorrento on the Park, One Tree Hill, Auckland

Acknowledgements – Marcus Beveridge, NZAMI Chairman, Hon Aussie Malcolm, Chair of the Conference, parliamentary colleagues Lockwood Smith and Pansy Wong, Mary-Anne Thompson, Deputy Secretary and sponsors of this event.

Tena koutou katoa, Talofa, Malo e lelei, Kia Orana, Bula Vanaka, Namaste, Ni hao, Salamalikum and warm pacific greetings to you all.


Thank you very much for this opportunity to speak to you today.

As you may already be aware, the immigration portfolio is in a period of significant rejuvenation, so I am grateful for the chance to share our vision for immigration with you at this time.

Let me start with a comment about your conference theme – "Immigration Tomorrow! Or?"

Let me say right now that there is no question mark about the essential role that immigration will play in New Zealand's future. It is crucial. It is a must-have for our economy and communities.

This Labour-led government understands that a sustainable, well-managed, balanced immigration programme is one of the keys to New Zealand's economic transformation.

Migrants already make a valuable contribution to New Zealand.

Tourism accounted for 18.5% of export earnings in 2004/05, accounting both directly and indirectly, for 1 in 10 jobs in the New Zealand workforce. While international students contributed to our foreign exchange earnings to the tune of $2 billion dollars in 2004/05.

And this is just the tip of the iceberg. The contribution of migrants is only going to grow in importance and significance.

So today, I would like to talk about:

  • The Government's vision for immigration and the key drivers behind our new direction;
  • An overview of the Immigration Change Programme and other policy enhancements we are making;
  • And finally, how the changes we are making will benefit New Zealanders and migrants alike.

The Vision for Immigration

In essence, there are three objectives to the Immigration programme.

To ensure:

  • Firstly that New Zealand has the skills, talent and labour it needs for economic transformation. New Zealand is experiencing widespread skill and labour shortages. In fact, one third of small businesses tell us that it is their biggest barrier to growth. Migrant labour is going to play a huge role in providing the skills that we need for continued economic growth.
  • Secondly, New Zealanders need to confident of the security of our border. We are in a time of heightened risk at the border. We need to put an emphasis on the establishment of effective border controls and enforcement measures, while facilitating the entry of high-value migrants.
  • And thirdly, migrants and refugees need to settle well, and integrate into communities. We want the best settlement outcomes for migrants and refugees. The sooner, migrants are settled in supportive communities, with jobs appropriate for their skills, with their children settled in local schools – the better. We want to make this transition as smooth as possible.

The basis for our Immigration Change Programme is the notion that New Zealand is our number one customer.

We base our immigration programme on evidence, engaging with stakeholders and listening to what New Zealanders and migrant communities are telling us.

And this is the key to getting the legislative and strategic mix right.

Immigration must purposefully benefit our economy, our labour market and our communities. That is a given.

However, our approach to achieving these benefits has changed. We are taking a holistic, whole-person and whole-community view of immigration.

This is not just about economic units – immigration is about people. It's about Kiwis, migrants, business people, community groups and stakeholders, who tell us what the issues are; where we need to concentrate resources and how we need to adjust policy settings.

We understand that the Government is in a partnership with the community and other agencies to develop the best immigration policy.

The Four Drivers of Change

The topic for this conference is a focus on "Tomorrow". So what will tomorrow bring?

The global immigration environment is changing. And we must change with it or risk being left behind.

I believe that there are four main factors that we need to consider:

  1. Circulation

    The first is circulation. There are now greater people flows around the world. In general, people are more transient now than they were 20 years ago.

    The number of people living outside their country of origin is growing worldwide.

    In 1985 it was 84 million; in 2000 it was 175 million; in 2050 we forecast that it will be around 230 million

    People’s movement patterns are also more complex and dynamic. Rather than "moving for life" people may expect to have substantial periods in a number of countries over the course of their careers.

    Many also return home after “migrating” for an extensive period.

    New Zealanders are also on the move: 16% of people born in New Zealand live in another OECD country.

    Settlement patterns have changed also; thus temporary and semi-permanent migration has increased

  2. Competition for skills, labour and talent

    The second key driver of change is the global competition for skills, labour and talent.

    As labour mobility increases, countries will increasingly compete for migrants.

    We are living in an increasingly globalised integrated world; labour markets exist across national boundaries. New Zealand and Australia share a labour market for example, as does the EU.

    Internationally, populations are aging and there are lower birth rates. According to data from the United Nations; by 2050, 1 in every 3 persons living in the more developed regions of the world is likely to be 60 or older. We need to start planning for these changes now.

    Migrants based their country of choice on a range of factors.

    Our research shows that migrants want good job opportunities, top salaries, business opportunities, a work-life balance, recreational activities, good health and education services, civil and political freedom and of course low crime rates.

    These are all factors that put New Zealand in very good stead, in the competition for the best global talent.

  3. Diversity

    New Zealand is becoming more culturally diverse – a fact that we celebrate and embrace. One in five Kiwis were born overseas.

    During the 1990s, the Asian population in New Zealand grew by 138%, and the Pacific Island population grew by 39%.

    New Zealand has a relatively proud record on multi-ethnic relations to date. But in times of international instability, this cannot be taken for granted. Recent riots in France and Australia reinforce the need for successful settlement and integration

    We must identify what this diversity means for our communities and respond by ensuring the best settlement outcomes for migrants.

    'Diversity' is not just some PC buzzword. Globalisation is a fact, not a philosophy. New Zealand faces a stark choice – play the global game wisely or wither on the international vine.

    What we simply must do is celebrate the talents of everyone – our families young and old – our migrants new and old, whether they came by waka, tall ship or jumbo jet. We need to embrace the energy they bring.

    In so doing we will build the identity of a proud, independent, unique, small, smart country that can sustain the best quality of life for its citizens.

  4. Heightened risk and pressure on the border

    Unfortunately, a sign of our times is the heightened threat of international terrorism, illegal migration and trans-national organised crime.

    Increased connectedness means more opportunities for diseases to enter New Zealand, which may affect people or animals.

Immigration Change Programme: An Overview

So because 'tomorrow' will be different from today, we are currently undertaking the most comprehensive overhaul of immigration legislation, policy and operations in 20 years.

We need to ensure that our legislation is flexible; that it is sustainable; that it is robust and that it is future-proof.

This reform process will address the service issues to which Aussie Malcolm referred to earlier.

To achieve this we have embarked on a far-reaching Immigration Change Programme.

It is based on three core elements or "pillars:"

·The legislative base – this includes a vigorous review of the Immigration Act as well as the Immigration Advisors Licensing Bill – and I note the Association's support for this bill and the excellent set of ethics that you already have in place for your members.
·The substantive policy mix – that is - developing an Immigration Policy Framework that is flexible and responsive to meet our future needs
·And of course, the operational side – this involves the development and implementation of a new business model with associated service enhancements.

Deputy Secretary, Mary Anne Thompson will shortly give more detail on the Immigration Change Programme.

Immigration is dynamic and is constantly changing. We want our legislation to keep in step with that change and to continue to offer the best outcomes for New Zealanders and migrants.

Achieving Our Vision

This is what we are doing – confidently leading New Zealand in a clear, comprehensive direction.

This is what a Labour-led Government offers. This is what only a Labour-led Government can offer.

A consistent, balanced, moderate immigration programme that offers win/win outcomes for New Zealand and migrants.

The Opposition's immigration policy is based on half-truths and the irony is that some of the policies that National criticises are the very ones that they implemented in the 90's.

It only has one dimension – treating migrants solely as economic units and failing to invest in people and their settlements in communities.

Thankfully, successive Labour Governments have addressed some of those failed policies.

Labour sees immigration as a holistic end-to-end process. It begins with marketing to the people we want, covers pre-departure and border processes, and does not end until migrants and their families are settled, working and happily integrated into New Zealand communities.

And settlement, as we all know, is a two-way street. The attitude of the host community is crucial.

Labour has been pragmatic in its management of the immigration portfolio.

We've shifted the focus of skilled immigration policy from passive acceptance to active recruitment of the skills New Zealand needs – through boosting the Skilled Migrant Category and lifting the quota.

We've introduced very successful integrated migrant settlement and refugee resettlement strategies.

We have improved the uptake of English language education for migrants.

We've recognised the importance of expats through the NZ Now website. This aims to remind Kiwis of the opportunities and benefits of home and to encourage resettlement back in New Zealand. It complements initiatives like the Kiwi Association and Beachhead Programme to better leverage the dynamic pool of kiwi talent living overseas.

Budget 06 saw an extra $16 million over four years for border security measures because we believe and the public expects that New Zealand is free of the negative influences that undermine the benefits migration can bring.

Policy Enhancements

At the policy level, let me give you a foretaste of some of the key reform packages currently under development that is of direct interest to your members.

  1. Investor Stream

    We are reviewing the business/investor/entrepreneur category.

    We are taking a holistic view, looking at the broad contribution that investors make to economic development, focussing on the creation of real jobs, real investment while building on the current scheme.

    This is a forward-thinking exercise. We are not harking back to the rotes and loopholes of the past. This is a fresh look at the investor stream, based on an economic development framework that will offer fresh thinking in a key category.

  2. Family-Sponsored Stream

    We are moving on the family sponsored stream.

    We are addressing the current concerns around backlogs and delays and also the efficient use of departmental resource. We also want to ensure the best settlement outcomes for sponsors and applicants.

    In particular, I want to see uncertainty removed for the spouses and qualifying dependant children of primary applicants.

    Officials are developing a system for FSS applications that is fair, consistent, efficient and transparent. I hope to be able to tell you more about this in the near future.

  3. Refugees

    We accept 750 mandated refugees per year and a quota of 300 for refugee family, and the provision for successful asylum seekers to apply for residence.

    I believe that New Zealanders are proud of the humanitarian stance that we take on the world stage in this way.

    According to National's policy they want to cut our refugee quota.

    I believe this would undermine New Zealand's compassion for refugees. Heartfelt compassion for people who are forced to leave their country of origin because of all kinds of war and persecution.

    In a speech last year, Dr Brash reckoned our refugee quota caused resentment in the community.

    I recently attended Volunteer Wellington's AGM – where I was told that there were many, many compassionate Kiwi's volunteering their own time to help migrants and refugees settle into New Zealand.

    Kiwis are decent caring folk. Being good international citizens is part of who we are as proud Kiwis.

    It is time we asked some searching questions about our refugee selection and settlement processes – whether they best match both migrants and the broader community and whether the balance of refugees and their families currently support optimal settlement outcomes.

  4. Settlement Strategy

    Which brings me to our settlement strategy for new migrants and refugees.

    The strategy recognises that migration is a process that does not stop at the border. For New Zealand to fully benefit from the skills and energy of new migrants, those migrants must be settled in good jobs and in healthy, vibrant communities.

    The settlement strategy has seen the establishment of 19 community-based support initiatives to assist migrants with the challenges of settling in a new country.

    These initiatives help new migrants and refugees with everything from finding a job, a place to live, and schools' for children to getting an IRD number and opening a bank account – anything that new migrants may need assistance with.

    The initiative was only launched last year but already the feedback has been very positive.

  5. International Students

    And finally New Zealand values the contribution that international students make and I've mentioned how much export education benefits New Zealand. International students are strong candidates for the Skilled Migrant Category (SMC).

    Like the investor category our international student policy must be seen in the context of our broader international education goals. It is a competitive global industry. We need to attract the best possible calibre of student and ensure they have a successful time in New Zealand. Many become great candidates for permanent settlement.

    We are currently working with stakeholder input, on a package of reforms in this category.

Benefits for New Zealand and Migrants

As I've already made clear: we believe that these new policy settings will derive the best benefits for New Zealand.

New Zealanders expect an immigration system that is going to enhance our nation both economically and socially. Migrants expect an immigration process that is clear, fair and consistent.

The expectations are not unreasonable. And like any customer-focussed service, we want to exceed the expectations of our clients.

As the MP for New Lynn - where 1 in three people were born outside of New Zealand – I am aware of some of the pitfalls of our current system. I have had many constituents coming to my office requesting assistance – over half of my local caseload was immigration-related!

But we are going to great lengths to address these pitfalls and get the legislative mix right.

It is clear that the stakes are high. But with the direction we are taking, I believe that we can take on the challenges of the future and succeed.


Submissions on the discussion document regarding the Immigration Act Review have recently closed and the Department of Labour will consider the feedback they have received so a new bill can be introduced next year.

The important aspect to acknowledge is that the rapid pace of change means that we need a future-proof legislative framework that will serve New Zealand's best interests both now and in the future.

We want a fast, firm, fair immigration system that will deliver the best outcomes for New Zealand and for migrants; a system that will enable New Zealand to undertake the economic transformation that it must, and a system that builds diverse colourful communities throughout the country.

In order to achieve that, change is necessary. And with that change, I believe that this Labour-led Government will achieve the balanced policy to make New Zealand the best place in the world to live.