Immigration tap can't be turned off

Immigration Minister Michael Woodhouse has defended the Government's immigration policies. Photo: Lynn Grieveson

The Immigration Minister defended the Government’s immigration policy when appearing before a Select Committee, saying he had no interest in devastating industry. Shane Cowlishaw reports.

Michael Woodhouse has planted his immigration policy flag deep in New Zealand’s soil and has signalled it will not be moved.

The Immigration Minister appeared before the Transport and Industrial Relations Select Committee on Thursday to answer questions about the Government’s spending plans.

Although he also discussed ACC and workplace safety, he was the most animated when talking about immigration.

NZ First and Labour have been hitting hard about high net migration and their belief that numbers need to significantly drop.

Winston Peters wants the number down from around 70,000 to between 7000 and 15,000, but won’t say how he would accomplish such a huge decrease.

Labour want a more modest reduction, but are also yet to reveal exactly how they plan to cut the numbers.

In an effort to ease disquiet about immigration, Woodhouse announced tweaks in April including two remuneration bands to clamp down on the skilled migrant category pathway to permanent residence.

Woodhouse told the committee that it was easy to chop immigration back down, but it would come at a heavy price.

“It’s easy to do, you just turn the tap off. The question is which industries you want to decimate along the way and I’m simply not prepared, and neither is the Government, to make arbitrary, kneejerk decisions that would be very much against New Zealand’s long term best interests.

“Of course, we could destroy relationships with other countries in turning off the working holiday tap and preventing Kiwis from going and doing the same thing, we could turn down our fourth largest export earner in international education…but I really do reiterate that those who advocate for that need to be very careful of what they wish for.”

While certain types of immigration such as working holidays and international students were rising, there had not been an impact on essential skills visas where New Zealanders had to be considered first for jobs. Any moves to reduce these could have a devastating impact on some industries, Woodhouse said.

Labour’s Kelvin Davis asked Woodhouse if there had been any analysis on the problems unchecked immigration could cause, considering New Zealand’s population was expected to double by 2050.

Woodhouse responded that he did not believe immigration was unchecked, saying he knew New Zealand’s policies to be excellent because other countries often copied them.

Under the Government’s salary tweaks, skilled migrants will have to earn more than $48,859 and unskilled migrants more than $73,299 or face a stand-down period before being able to apply for a replacement visa.

This measure was defended by Woodhouse, who said it was unfair to set an expectation of a pathway to residency for migrants that doesn’t exist.

New Zealand needed to be more honest with its migrants and tell them that if they wanted to proceed to residency, they needed to change what they were studying.

“The message that I would send to international students now is if you’re studying a sub-degree qualification with an expectation of getting a general role in business or IT and less than $49,000 a year, there is no pathway.”