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.

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