The complex politics of immigration
By Richard Harman (author)
It’s perhaps one of the bigger ironies of current New Zealand politics that the tightening up on immigration proposed by both main parties has been greeted with guarded approval by immigrant candidates.
Meanwhile, business groups are lobbying the Government to complain about its tightening up and have reservations about Labour's proposals.
But the argument that there could be a bitter and divisive debate about the different policies during the election campaign tends to get kicked into touch by the reluctance of the ethnic candidates to engage.
The two m,migrant groups most affected by the proposals are the Philippines, most of whom work in low paid jobs in the health and farming sectors and Indians, who make up the majority of students who come here to the private training establishments and who are then legible to apply for a work visa and ultimately residency.
National's Paulo Garcia is the Philippines Honorary Consul in Auckland and is standing for New Lynn, but party sources say he is sure to get a high party list position and will almost certainly become an MP after the election.
He attended a meeting over the weekend of Filipino immigrants in Tokoroa who wanted to talk about the Government’s changes, particularly the $49,000 salary limit which has been imposed in an attempt to define a skilled worker.
“The salary cap is good for everyone,” he says.
“It’s good for the workers, because it raises their opportunity to make money out of the hard work that they do.”
Garcia told the 300 migrants at the meeting that if they weren't making $49,000, then they had to work hard to make sure that they did.
The only doubt he will admit is that currently, farm workers on essential skill visas can stay in the country for only three years which he thinks might not be long enough to get up to the $49,000 salary that will allow them to apply for permanent residence.
He says that it might be able to be reviewed because “you will see the effects in three years.”
Labour’s Maungakiekie candidate, Priyanka Radhakrishnan, is also high on her party's list and she too has a background working with migrants in the Shatki women's refuge organisation.
Predictably she is critical of the National changes – but only about the way they are being implemented, not their overall goal.
Her main criticism is that it affects people who are already here and it is a shifting of the goal posts.
“I’ve heard of people who have got their 140 points to apply for permanent residence but then they have discovered that they need 160 which is really unfair,” she says.
But Labour’s cutbacks are much more drastic than National’s.
In particular, they are hoping to chop 6000- 10,000 student visas and then another 9000 -12,000 from post-study work visas.
Garcia is particularly critical of the way Labour has justified this by saying that immigration has placed too much pressure on housing and infrastructure, particularly in Auckland.
“It's quite negative,” he says.
“A drastic across the board seems to be extremely harsh.
“It also doesn’t recognise the value that migration has given to New Zealand.
“I think it’s unfair to point the finger at migrants as the cause of the housing shortage.
“The Filipinos - when they come they just sincerely want to contribute.
"It's not a fuzzy you give me this, and I'll do this; they are ready to just give."
Radhakrishnan obviously defends the policy which she says will help clean up the private
training establishment business which has been widely criticised for its rorts.
She says she has been pleasantly surprised by the positive reaction from many in the migrant community to the move.
And she’s quick to answer Garcia’s charges that Labour is blaming migrants.
“We’ve been quite clear to say that there is an infrastructure deficit,” she says.
“It has completely been caused by the Government, and anybody who lives in Auckland will identify with that, and that is what I have been hearing.
“The pressure on infrastructure is caused largely by the deficit but also by the population increase that hasn’t been planned for and migration does contribute to the population increase.
"But we are not blaming the migrants; we are blaming the lack of planning.
“All we are saying is that we should slow things down a bit while we address that infrastructure deficit.”
And just as Radhakrishnan has found acceptance for Labour's policies within the Indian community, so Garcia has found the same for National's policies among the Filipinos
“It hasn’t been a hard sell,” he says.
Perhaps the biggest irony of the immigration debate is that it seems more intense among the non-migrant communities than among the communities themselves.