Labour focuses migration cuts on students


Students from India sit on steps on the edge of Aotea Square. Labour's migration changes would stop students at sub-degree courses from working. Photo by Lynn Grieveson

Labour has announced it would reduce net migration by 20,000 to 30,000 a year if it was in government, mostly by limiting the work visas available to international students at private training establishments.

Leader Andrew Little formally announced the policy in Auckland on Monday afternoon, saying Labour favoured a breather from record high migration levels and that the debate was not about ethnicity or race.

A Labour Government would stop issuing student visas to courses below a bachelor's degree that were not independently assessed by the Tertiary Education Commission (TEC) and the New Zealand Qualifications Authority (NZQA) to be of high quality. It said international students studying at below bachelor's course level would only be able to be work if the work was approved as part of the course.

It would also limit the ability of students to receive a one year work visa after their study was finished. Only students graduating with a Bachelor's degree or higher would be able to get such a visa.

Separately, Labour would strengthen the work test for work visas so they were not be used for jobs New Zealanders could do. It would also regionalise the skills shortages list so workers coming in on the visas could only live and work in areas with a skills shortage. It would remove the skilled migrant category bonus points awarded for studying and working in New Zealand and standardise the age points to 30 for everyone under 45.

It estimated the removal of student visas for non-approved courses and stopping sub-degree level students from working while studying here would reduce net migration by 6,000 to 10,000, while removing the ability of sub-degree level graduates to work for a year after graduating would reduce migration by 9,000 to 12,000. This would mean more than two thirds of the cuts would land on the international education sector. Labour would not cut the Registered Seasonal Employer, working holiday or Pacific migrant quotas.

The changes to work visa skills testing would reduce migration by 5,000 to 8,000. Labour would also introduce a KiwiBuild Visa to hire skilled tradespeople, which would be over and above the 7,000 or so skilled construction tradespeople migrating each year. The Kiwibuild Visa would only be available to employers paying a living wage and taking on an apprentice for each overseas worker they hired.

Little said the changes to student visas would affect lower quality private training establishments (PTEs) who had relied on the associated work visas and a pathway to residency to recruit international students. Labour officials said Labour's modelling estimated revenues from these establishments would drop around $70 million per year.

Little also said he did not expect the migration changes would reduce economic growth, as unemployed New Zealanders would take up the vacant roles and productivity would improve.

"This will ease the pressures on New Zealand, and on Auckland in particular," Little said.

"Without these changes, 10,000 more houses would be needed each year and up to 20,000 more cars would be on our roads," he said.

"National's policies have created a backdoor to residency via low-level study and low skill work. These have had the perverse effect that a 23 year old with a New Zealand diploma and three years experience in retail can get more points towards residency than a 45 year old oncologist who wants to migrate here."