Speech to the New Zealand Association of Immigration Professionals

It's a great pleasure to be here today talking to you for what is my first major immigration-related speech since I became Minister in October.

I'm eager to have a collaborative and colleagial relationship with your Association and to meeting as many of you as possible in person. Those two words, collaborative and colleagial, are really important to me. That’s how I like to operate, and that’s how this Government wants to engage with all sectors of the community.

And that’s also the message I get when I travel the country speaking with businesses, farmers, chambers of commerce, winegrowers, exporters. Everyone expresses a willingness to engage and work out a pathway forward, together

There’s been some misapprehension out there about the new Government’s immigration policies.

I might even go as far as saying there’s been fearmongering: Fearmongering that is entirely unhelpful to business confidence, and unhelpful for understanding the opportunities we all have with a more flexible and targeted approach to immigration.

But after speaking directly with me people generally are pretty positive after they get an understanding of what the Government actually wants to achieve.

So let’s talk, and keep talking together, and working together to establish an immigration system that really works for New Zealand.

New Zealand is a nation of migrants and migrant workers are integral to our culture, our economy and wellbeing as a society.  Our Government recognises this and will always continue to support this.

In some instances though, the immigration system isn’t delivering the best outcomes for migrants or New Zealand as a whole. 

I’m determined to achieve better economic growth by matching migrant skills to the regions and industries where they are needed most, and ending exploitation of migrant workers and international students.

Today, I want to share with you my priorities for the immigration portfolio and talk about some of the challenges and opportunities ahead.

The underlying principles of our approach are: Building value to New Zealand through our welcoming of new migrants to contribute to New Zealand’s shared prosperity; and making sure that New Zealand is known as a nation that upholds workers’ rights and is a great place for migrants to live and work.

We must ensure workers are not exploited.

We must ensure good, rewarding and sustainable job opportunities are created.

We don’t have a job growth problem in New Zealand, we have a job quality problem

And we must ensure new migrants don’t suffer the same issues they’ve come here to escape. Long commutes to work, bursting class sizes, and rampant house prices that get further and further away from anyone’s grasp.

But that, in essence, is the very real consequence of a one-size-fits-all approach to immigration. That approach doesn’t help our businesses, it doesn’t help our society, and it doesn’t help our migrants.

You don't need me to tell you that there is still a huge number of migrants making Auckland their home, and that has caused a significant strain on infrastructure and resources such as education and transport.

Yet that’s the inevitable consequence of taking an untargeted, one-size-fits-all approach.

For example, permanent and long-term net migration to Auckland as a share of its population is the highest in the country at 2.2 per cent.

Meanwhile, in the Marlborough region which has low unemployment at around 2 percent – and plenty of jobs to be filled – the PLT net migration is 0.3 per cent

I want to acknowledge that the previous Government did implement some changes to encourage migrants to settle in the regions, such as tripling the bonus points for skilled migrants applying for residence with a job offer outside Auckland, and doubling the points for entrepreneurs planning to set up businesses in the regions under the Entrepreneur Work Visa.

But this Government believes more can and should be done to ensure the immigration system is set up to ensure overseas workers can fill real skills gaps in the regions.

Regional New Zealand does offer a rewarding way of life, so why wouldn’t we want to promote that?

There are real opportunities for migrant workers in a number of industries where there are not enough New Zealanders available - construction, engineering and IT to name a few.

The Prime Minister and I have been absolutely clear on this: Where a genuine skill shortage exists, businesses will get the workers they need.

That’s why we're working on developing regional skill and labour shortages lists, and a mechanism to ensure that the visa holder lives and works within an area that is relevant to their identified skill.

These will be developed in close consultation with regions, businesses and workers.

I also want to make it clear that this Government has not set a target for reducing the number of migrant workers.

We have consistently said that modelling has suggested that the changes we intend to make are estimated to reduce net migration by 20,000-30,000 a year, but we have never said that was a target.

As I said, businesses will be able to get genuinely skilled migrants when they need them.

That’s why we are exploring new visas categories to support the Government’s economic development objectives: An Exceptional Skills visa for highly skilled or talented people; and a KiwiBuild visa for residential construction firms who train a New Zealander when they hire a worker from overseas.

But equally we need to do more to train our own workforce so that New Zealanders are first in the job queue.

To that end we plan to strengthen the labour market test and review the post-study work rights of international students, to be followed by in-study work rights.

I will be working with officials on any changes but have no set timeframes at this stage.

Again, we’ll do this by working closely with you so that we can achieve solutions that add value, enhance the migrant experience, and don’t undermine the New Zealand economy.

That leads me to another area that we must all seek common ground, which is international education.

I am concerned at the growth in low-value courses designed to attract students who are seeking a pathway to residency. I don’t think that comes as a surprise to any of you.

This Government plans to return our export education offering to one that is focused on providing quality education, not on being a back door to residency.

We all know that international students are more likely to be victims of migrant exploitation, because they work in industries that are prone to relatively high non-compliance including retail, hospitality and horticulture.

This Government is determined to eliminate the exploitation of all workers, particularly migrants.

That's an ambitious goal and will take time to achieve. That’s why work has already begun and why it will continue relentlessly until we reach that goal.

Too many migrants in New Zealand are being underpaid or not receiving what their employer promised them.

That's why we will double the number of labour inspectors and ensure they're located in areas with high levels of migrant workers.

A lot of work is already going on involving Immigration New Zealand, the Labour Inspectorate and other agencies to detect and respond to instances of migrant exploitation in high­ risk industries such as retail, hospitality and horticulture.

The policy introduced last year to stop employers who breach immigration and employment law from recruiting migrant workers for defined stand-down periods ranging from six months to two year is also having an impact.

More than 100 employers have already been affected.

This is a good example of regulators working together to combat migrant exploitation, but more importantly it sends a strong message to errant employers that they will be strongly penalised for not complying with the law and, in doing so, having a commercial advantage over their competitors.

We need to create a culture where migrant exploitation simply isn't tolerated; where everyone knows that it is bad for business, bad for the country and bad for our international reputation.

The overriding principle is simple: migrant workers have the same employment rights as all other workers in New Zealand.

A society dependent on exploitation is not the kind of country that we want New Zealand to be.

An economy dependent on exploitation will not deliver prosperity and opportunities to thrive.

So that’s some of our key priorities and I’m happy to have a conversation on other aspects of the immigration portfolio such as refugees and RSE scheme – certainly issues that are no less important to me.

But before I do, I’d like to reiterate my commitment to you all:

That this is a Government that sees real value in immigration done the right way.

That this is a Government that will work in partnership with you all as we improve our immigration system

That this is a Government that puts people at the heart of all our decisions. And that includes you.

So let’s start working together on making our immigration system work for New Zealand.

Thank you.