Wellington Mayoral Forum on ImmigrationImmigration
Good morning, and thank you for the opportunity to speak today. I thought I would begin with a bit of background in terms of where this government is coming from with respect to immigration, and where we are heading. But first I want to acknowledge the Mayors of this region for being pro-active in inviting me to address you on the issue of regional immigration.
The mayors of this region have been outspoken in support of regional migration, and have clearly seen the link between central & local government, business, industry and community. I saw an RMS presentation on the weekend, which talked about the 'resettlement' of refugees as being a process, but that all important sense of 'belonging' as a feeling. Basically refugees couldn't resettle without the acceptance of the community. I believe that is also true of migrants. There has to be a strong element of acceptance of migrants for settlement to be successful, and that acceptance has to come from the top. Your leadership is critical in this regard.
The invitation to today's forum included an editorial piece from Geoff Fletcher, which said this:
"If immigration policies are to help us create the wealth we need to be a successful and compassionate society, those who support increased immigration need to explain the benefits to the wider community. After all, a liberal immigration programme will only have popular support if New Zealanders are convinced of the benefits of increased immigration."
I could not agree more.
One of my first priorities upon taking office was to develop a clear understanding of the settlement process, in order to commence developing an integrated settlement policy through a whole-of-government approach.
This Government believes that settlement outcomes are the true measure of the quality of immigration policy, not merely the numbers of migrants attracted to live in New Zealand. It is how well they live in New Zealand that counts, not counting the numbers who arrive. It is also important to consider whether or not they decide to remain. If we lose interest in migrants the minute they arrive, then the benefits of migration will not be shared by migrants and the communities within which they settle - which is the key to success.
New Zealanders are fair-minded people, and I know many have been shocked to learn of qualified professionals being unemployed or under-employed. Immigration policy is undermined by stories of doctors and scientists driving taxis.
The first point to note is that the settlement experience begins before the decision is made to move to New Zealand. What people anticipate will be their life in New Zealand, more often than not, will be their own measure of successful settlement.
A decision to move to New Zealand is usually the most far-reaching decision a family could make. It often involves breaking family ties and travelling long distances. Such decisions are not easily reversed either. If expectations exceed reality, then there is no doubt that the settlement experience will be the poorer.
A failure to find work commensurate with qualifications may not only cause a reduced standard of living, it may cause a level of humiliation, which is quite cultural in nature.
It is important that realistic expectations are set, and that these are either matched or exceeded.
The NZIS has a catch-phrase "New Zealand - The Right Choice". We are currently putting together some material around the theme "New Zealand - Making Sure it's the Right Choice for You". This will inform people about finding work in New Zealand, emphasising the ability to visit NZ looking for a job offer ahead of residence being finalised. It will also talk realistically of the English language requirements, and the need for qualifications and experience to be relevant to the NZ context. It will also highlight the need to check information with official sources.
The next phase in the settlement continuum is the arrival and the initial settlement experience. This is where connections into the New Zealand labour market and community networks need to be made, and where you in local government can play a significant role.
This has been the motivating factor behind the settlement pilot projects, which are being funded through the Migrant Levy. The pilots include mentoring programmes, web-based skill matching, the development of migrant resource centres and community orientation.
The final phase in the settlement continuum is the development and strengthening of ethnic communities, which of course goes well beyond the migration experience, and it is for this reason that NZIS hands over lead responsibility to the Office of Ethnic Affairs at this point.
The Government is of the view that the focus on settlement will pay dividends in the long-term, because it will have a positive effect nationally through enhanced community relations, and internationally, as we are seen as outward-looking and welcoming of visitors and new residents.
To support this focus on settlement, we are undertaking research in the form of a Longitudinal Study, which should give us some robust information in terms of developing our settlement policies.
However, any literature search will highlight the role of employment in contributing to positive settlement outcomes. If I have a meaningful job, and my family is happily settled into school and community, then the chances are I will fee good about the decision I have made to settle here.
If, on the other hand, I am unemployed (for the first time in my adult life) or am working in a position that is beneath my qualifications and experience, then it is hard for me to feel anything other than resentment.
Guaranteeing that overseas qualified migrants are given fair consideration in terms of employment prospects, is not something I could confidently attest to right now. There have been too many reports of people being declined even an interview, because of their accent or surname or overseas qualification or lack of NZ experience. The Equal Employment Opportunities Trust has also researched this matter, and I'm afraid new Zealand employers and the Personnel Consultants, who often act as the 'middle-men and middle-women', have been found wanting.
There are usually 'excuses' around the non-employment of migrants, but in reality they are artificially constructed barriers that lead to lost opportunities for migrants and employers alike. Overseas-trained professionals didn't gain their qualifications in a vacuum - they studied alongside other students, who have either stayed in their own country or moved onto another country as well. Any employer with an interest in research or export markets must see that employing professional migrants brings ready-made international contacts that would otherwise take years to cultivate.
In addition the New Zealand workforce gains considerably from the international experience and contact with new ideas and perspectives.
Again today's workshops should highlight to you the significance of the role that you can play.
One of the early successes of the Migrant Levy pilots has been the www.newkiwis.co.nz web-site. Over 50 professional migrants have been placed in jobs in the first few weeks of operation, however, to me this is secondary to all the positive publicity that has been given to the benefits of employing New Kiwis. The fact that the CEO of the Auckland Chamber of Commerce has made a passionate and very public commitment to the meaningful employment of migrants is invaluable, and I encourage you to think about what you could do to emulate this role. In Christchurch, Mayor Garry Moore, has publicly called for a Christchurch immigration policy, showing the kind of leadership that assists acceptance.
In this region, both John Terris & Mark Blumsky have been very positive about the benefits of migration.
And the benefits are real, but it has to be seen as mutual - it's a two way street.
I know that I have a leadership role to play as well, and I will be announcing full details of the government's Immigration Programme in the near future. I hope you will see that it is designed to emphasise skilled and business migration, while providing fairly for family and international commitments.
There is a particular aspect of policy that I am not satisfied with, and that is the utilisation of work permit policy to meet industry needs, but not migrant needs. I have often described this problem as having 'residents in NZ who can't get work, and workers in NZ, who can't get residence'.
The first of these is being addressed through the settlement pilots; the second is tied up in a piece of work of how we link ongoing work to residence. I personally support the points system approach, but maybe the previous administration did throw the baby out with the bath-water, when they ditched the occupational priority list. Perhaps the solution lies in linking the work we are doing on identifying occupational shortages for work-permit purposes, as a stepping-stone to residence.
Finally, the work we are doing on regional immigration policy is still in its early stages. The development of regional immigration policy has been linked into the work of the Ministry of Economic Development. I believe this makes good sense as we start to think of immigration not merely as a tool of addressing regional population decline, but as a tool of regional economic growth.
NZIS has changed its whole philosophy over recent times. It views itself as a service that facilitates entry rather than as an agent of border control.
If, as a regional forum, you are interested in determining how you might attract migrants to this region, and hold them here, I can signal to you that we are interested in working closely with you.
Partnership between central government, local government, industry and community is pivotal to the success of the approach, and I hope that out of today's forum, we will be able to establish that partnership, so that this region benefits from New Zealand's immigration programme, and the new Kiwis who come to this region know that they made the right choice.