It’s time to play blame the migrant
The last time that low quality courses in education became a political football was back in 2005, under the Clark government.
Remember the furore over the public funding for courses in twilight golf? The outcry was led by National’s education spokesperson at the time, a guy called Bill English. How the tables have turned. Last week, the government that English now heads was being lambasted by Labour over the alleged links between low quality courses for international students and the country’s booming immigration numbers.
Currently, immigrants are being blamed for almost every negative aspect of life in Auckland, from housing shortfalls to road congestion.
If twilight golfers were the bugbear of 2005, the immigration system now stands accused of issuing visas to supermarket shelf stackers, and to students who supposedly use their studies as back door routes to residency - even though over 80 per cent of them return home after completing their courses.
Arguably, an economy already running close to full capacity may actually need an influx of foreign labour on our farms, or to satisfy our construction boom, or to attract competent aged-care workers for the needs of our ageing population.
Politically, it also seems relevant that the current 71,300 annual net immigration figures are being boosted by New Zealanders either returning home, or staying here instead of migrating.
Evidently, Labour leader Andrew Little wants swing voters to realise that the party of Michael Joseph Savage – himself an immigrant – feels deeply concerned about the alleged impacts of immigration on Auckland.
At this point in the election cycle, Labour is in stiff competition with New Zealand First over which party is tougher on immigration. (Labour seems noticeably less exercised about offering alternatives to the government’s economic policies.)
The targeting of international students has seemed particularly cynical, given the rumours about Shane Jones’ re-entry to politics, under the New Zealand First banner. When international students last came under fire in 2014, it was Jones who led the charge against them.
Back then, Labour’s Grant Robertson distanced Labour from Jones’ attacks, while the party’s export education spokesperson Raymond Huo claimed that the government hadn’t been trying hard enough to attract more foreign students.
In other words, Labour has formerly seemed rather uncertain about whether it thinks the international student influx is a good, or bad, thing.
As mentioned, New Zealand experienced a net annual inflow of 71,300 as of February 2017. Yet 37,000 of these were New Zealanders either returning home, or not leaving as in previous years. As a reflection of our tourism boom, another 21,000 received working holiday visas, enabling work on farms and orchards.
Some 7000 were additional international student arrivals, and 3000 were Australians moving here.
Cumulatively, that accounts for 68,000 of the 71,300 net annual figure.
Is there much padding that can readily be stripped from these numbers?
Apparently not. Recently, the government has raised the points required for residency, and has sought to lift (to $49,000) the pay required in the jobs filled by skilled applicants.
Seemingly, only at most 10-20,000 migrants are sitting on the margins of the current policy settings.
They’re hardly the root cause of - or solution to - Auckland’s main problems.