Hidden Costs of Migrating


On the Move

Let him that would move the world first move himself.

- Socrates

Ways to get to New Zealand - as you can't walk or drive
(But you could also be born here...)

In 1995 alone, total NZ business migrant investments amounted to just under $400 million.  But, Nicola Legat writing in the June 96 edition of North and South, quoted Annette King, minister of immigration before the 1990 election, as saying, "There is no audit done of what happens to the money..."

More and more people in the world today are seeking better opportunities through migration, whether to escape war, persecution, poverty, unemployment, human rights violations, or maybe they're just seeking a fresh start.  At the same time, various countries have imposed stricter border controls and entry requirements.  In desirable countries, the possibilities for legal migration have decreased.  Increased demand for migration pushing against stricter entry requirements has provided entrepreneurs with a potential for huge profits.

I think the NZ government has been less than benevolent in requiring an investment in a qualifying trust, then not overseeing the program at all.  (Presumably that was the function of trustees.)  Immigrants are hardly able to perform adequate due diligence - at least for the first couple of years (exactly the period of investment required).  Unpoliced interests conflict; creeping abuse walks in the door.  This North and South article gave me a more objective framework to view this whole situation than my emotional biases had heretofore allowed.  Access to stacks of money can distort people.

See also:

bulletChairman of the Barred - about "the problems of unethical and unscrupulous behaviour by some [immigration] consultants..."
bulletMigrants Face Ruin - about a group of Asian immigrants who invested their money in the company that managed (among other things) Flat Rock Forests Trust.

Immigration Rule Changes Raise Spectre of Failing

by Jim Peron

Once again immigration policy has taken a dramatic shift.  Just one thing is certain about the Government's policy, and that is that nothing is certain.  Just a few months ago the Immigration Minister, Lianne Dalziel, announced new measures to solve problems in immigration.  Now she's done it again.

But each time the rules are changed, it disrupts the lives of potential immigrants who have already filed their applications.  Thousands who filed under one set of regulations suddenly find they are being judged under a different set.  And the rather hefty fees they pay upon application are not refundable.  Under one set of regulations, a potential immigrant might have a decent chance of being accepted.  Under the new rules, he might not.  Had these rules been in effect at the time of filing, he probably wouldn't have wasted his money.

The Government concedes that under the new regulations, about half the applicants who have already filed will be rejected.  If you were buying a home and put down a deposit and agreed terms, you wouldn't like it if the seller suddenly changed the terms, said you no longer qualified for the deal, and then kept the deposit.  Basic rules of fairness should at least require that all applications filed and paid for under a specific set of regulations be judged by those regulations and not under whatever flavour-of-the-week rules are sprung unannounced.

Changing the regulations midstream is grossly unjust to those who filed, in good faith, under rules that the minister had set only a few months ago.  The new regulations also punish immigrants who wish to move to Auckland.  The minister laments that highly qualified professionals are driving taxis in Auckland.  To prevent these people suffering this fate, she will keep them out of New Zealand altogether, or mandate that they seek employment outside Auckland.  Professional immigrants do sometimes drive taxis, though I doubt it is more than a handful.  But how many of them are doing so temporarily until they find a job in the field where they are qualified?  I know of one immigrant who took temporary jobs during the three months it took to find a good job in his chosen vocation.  That an immigrant is driving a taxi now doesn't mean he will be driving one next year.

Secondly, how many professionals are taking these jobs because other Government policies require them to jump through other hoops before they are allowed to work in their field?  A professional may arrive, be accepted for residency, but be prevented from working in his field until he satisfies the authorities that he is qualified.  While trying to satisfy government regulations he may have no option but to drive a taxi.

The minister claims she does not want immigrants to come to New Zealand and fail.  But preventing them from moving to Auckland may do just that.  Immigrants in most countries are often friends or relatives of others who have migrated already.  Friends and family members provide important support structures for the new immigrants.  But if the new immigrant is forbidden from living in Auckland, near this support network, the chances of failure increase.

In cultures not corrupted by welfare, families often provide for welfare needs.  The new policy strips immigrants of the benefits of living near previous migrants.  In California, four-fifths of all doughnut shops are owned by Cambodian immigrants or their children.  The reason is simple: immigrants provide a social safety net for each other.  Once the initial migrant opened his first doughnut shop, other family members or friends migrated and did the same.  Forbidding later waves of immigrants from moving to major cities would not have increased their chances of success.  Instead it would have separated them from the private social net that was created by previous immigrants.

Surely the immigrants are more concerned about their success than the minister.  As the ones who are taking the risks, they should be the ones who decide where they will live.  Predictable public policies are required for individuals to make rational decisions.

Jim Peron, an immigrant, is the executive director of the Institute for Liberal Values.

Source: nzherald.co.nz 8 July 2003

Shifting Migrant Goalposts

by Geoff Cumming

The gates open slowly but they slam shut fast, dashing the hopes of thousands for a new life in New Zealand.  In Britain, the United States, South Africa, India, China and Korea, would-be migrants are tearing up application forms.  Many will have spent their savings on the paperwork, obtaining medical clearances and English language certificates, or have risked careers by declaring their intention to leave.  Suddenly, New Zealand no longer wants them.  Three times since June, the pass mark for general skills applicants has been ratcheted up, ruling out our biggest migration category for all but the most highly skilled who already have a job to come to.

Business and investor categories are also under review and immigration consultants expect criteria to be tightened.  They report anecdotal evidence of a crackdown since June on temporary work visas for applicants from non-English speaking countries.

After letting in more than 120,000 in two years, the Government seems to be shutting the doors, as happened in 1995 after a public outcry over similar immigration levels.  The policy flipflops of that era were seen as a response to Winston Peters' abrasive airing of those public concerns.  Consultants warn that if the clampdown proceeds, perception overseas will be that Peters is again influencing policy after capturing 12% of the vote in the last election.

Association of Migration and Investment chairman Bill Milnes says any return to the "tap on, tap off" approach to immigration will do lasting damage.  The 2001-02 financial year was the first since 1996 when more people entered the country than left, says Milnes.  It has taken this long to overcome the inconsistencies of the 1990s, which at one stage included a $20,000 bond for applicants who failed an English test.  "Once the numbers drop, unless there's a lot of proactive work going on, we'll suddenly find there's no one there when we want them."

Immigration Minister Lianne Dalziel says the points system was raised solely to cope with a surge in applications.  By September, officials were predicting another blowout of 68,000 approvals this financial year against the Government's desired level of around 45,000 a year.  The backlog is such that it may be 2 years before numbers fall, causing speculation that the timing is as much about taking the heat out of immigration before the next election as about easing concerns at our ability to cope with the numbers.

But can a country which, most years, loses as many as it gains afford to be this choosy?  Employers desperate for skilled labour to maintain business growth say we must keep up the momentum.  "We mustn't take fright or think that the tide has turned," says Employers and Manufacturers Association chief executive Alasdair Thompson.  "The demand is there - let's meet the demand."

The net migration gain of 37,000 in the year ended September 30 results from an increase in New Zealanders returning home (+3,500), a big drop in New Zealanders going overseas (-17,700), and an equivalent rise in immigration approvals (+17,200).  All three trends are attributed to our growing economy and the fallout from September 11.  With Canada and Australia tightening up and the US considered less safe, New Zealand has become the favoured destination for migrants with children creates uncertainty looking to improve their living standards.  But our sudden popularity and the degree of public support for Peters' taunts threaten to unravel Dalziel's efforts to lend consistency and coherence to immigration policy.

The challenge comes amid signs that the policy is finally bringing the kind of benefits which New Zealand has sought since the mid-1980s, when immigration was first tied explicitly to economic growth.  Migrant unemployment and welfare dependency are falling.  The Immigration Service is doing better at matching migrants to available jobs and there is more support to help them to adjust to New Zealand workplaces.

Importantly, employers are overcoming their reluctance to hire skilled migrants on the grounds of language barriers and cultural differences.  Thompson says economic conditions and our newfound popularity with migrants provide a rare opportunity to boost business growth.  "We have to take the view that anybody who's willing to come to New Zealand that fits our needs should get rapid acceptance."  Policy tweaks are needed to match applicants to the skills which are in demand and "we have to know they can communicate."

Most agree we have come a long way from the mid-1990s when an influx of thousands of Asian, Middle-Eastern and African migrants to Auckland brought inflationary pressure and swamped schools and health services in suburbs where they congregated.  Large numbers - including doctors, lawyers and accountants - could not get work in their professions and ended up on benefits or driving taxis.  These developments provided ammunition for Peters but raised legitimate concerns about immigration policy and the impacts of growing diversity on New Zealand society.

These issues have yet to be fully debated, says sociologist Paul Spoonley.  "Immigration flow is really part of a more complex picture about what this society is going to become by mid-century," says Spoonley, professor of humanities and social sciences at Massey University.  He says legitimate questions remain about the numbers New Zealand can accept over a 5 to 10-year period, the ability of infrastructure to cope and the extent to which they might change society.  Unless the host community is engaged in these debates, we risk the type of violent anti-immigrant backlash seen in Europe.

New Zealand still does too little to support migrants once they step off the plane, Spoonley says.  In Australia, Canada and Israel the state finances language and cultural programmes and on-the-job training.  Our efforts are more rhetorical than real.  "We lack any official policy on multiculturalism, particularly immigrant multiculturalism, which effectively puts us 30 years behind."

Professor Richard Bedford, convenor of migration research at Waikato University, says there's a need for more discussion about sustainable population levels, although there is no optimum number.  "We need to have a sensible debate about cultural diversity and what [size] are sustainable migrant communities.  It's an important question for Maori who don't want to be subjected to another swamping by people of different cultural values.  There's a lingering perception that immigration is simply designed to bring lots more people into New Zealand and this may make our population grow too fast."  But he says the net migration gain over the past 40 years has averaged 5,000 a year.  Falling birthrates mean we could double that figure for the next 50 years and still only just pass the 5 million mark.

The use of immigration to help raise living standards stems from the 1980s when the Labour Government was confronted with declining birthrates, an ageing population and skill shortages as it tried to open up our economy.  The Europeans-only approach to sourcing skilled labour was abandoned. In the early-1990s, the National Government looked to forge closer links with Asia and make up for demographic trends.  But the subsequent influxes of "new" migrants exposed glaring weaknesses in the policy mechanisms - and improvements have come only slowly.

The investor category has long been open to abuse, with many taking advantage of our free education system without any commitment to settling.  An English language requirement for general skills migrants was not introduced until 1995, and some business categories still lack the requirement.  Increased emphasis on job offers fueled corruption, while many bought businesses based on misleading financial statements.

In Dalziel's time, observers say progress has been made.  As a new minister, she distanced herself from the policy swings of the past 10 years, and the confusion created for would-be migrants.  "There has been a 'tap on, tap off' approach to immigration that has not only hurt individuals, but also damaged New Zealand's international reputation," she told the Association of Migration and Investment conference in 2000.  The new Government was committed to stable immigration policy.  She is adamant that the recent points system changes do not represent a return to the reversals of the past.  Nor are they an attempt to remove one leg of Winston Peters' election campaign tripod.  The general skills pass mark was raised only because of the backlog of applications already in the system, she says.

Cabinet papers in May and June noted the financial strain which increasing demand was placing on the Immigration Service and the risks posed for infrastructure including housing, education and transport.  It could also lead to unemployment for new migrants.  Dalziel says the review of the business categories was signalled three years ago and will include examination of whether people should continue to gain residency simply by buying existing businesses, such as dairies, which they do little to develop.

Dalziel says immigration policy is focused on meeting labour market needs and is not designed to make up for falling birthrates - 60% of migrants are admitted under the general skills and business categories, and family ties criteria have been tightened.  The new Talent Visa, in which accredited employers can bring in migrants who might not otherwise qualify to fill skill shortages, is gaining acceptance.  Those selected are paid $45,000 and gain residency after working for two years.

The points system used for general skills and some business categories is now more sophisticated, with greater emphasis on genuine job offers.

Dalziel agrees that the impacts of immigration and increasing diversity need to be debated.  But the benefits of migration are explicit and clear, she says.  "We have spent the past 3 years getting rid of some of the loopholes that enable people to undermine those benefits such as people claiming welfare within 3 months of getting here.  We are starting to get a handle on what produces good settlement outcomes and part of that is the English language requirement.  We are beginning to shift from a country that simply receives applications to one that actively recruits the people we need."

Seven Years' Delay to Find the Right Job

Mark Lu emigrated from China in 1995,
but was unable to get a job as a naval architect until this year.

When naval architect Mark Lu arrived in Auckland from the harbour city of Xiamen, in southeast China, he never thought it would take 7 years to find work in his profession.  With 8 years as a ship surveyor for the Chinese Government on his CV, he was confident his skills were in demand, despite his limited English.  Instead, Lu, 37, found himself pumping gas and working as a part-time cleaner, while taking polytech courses in computing and boatbuilding.  "It was very difficult to get work," says Lu, who now works for a cutting-edge marine engineering consortium opposite the Team New Zealand base at Viaduct Harbour.  "I guess the language problem was the biggest issue.  I found [employers] only needed the best people they could get.  Obviously if English is not your first language you aren't their choice."

The turning point came in May when Network Marine Group gave him 8 weeks' work experience under a programme for migrants launched by the Auckland Chamber of Commerce and Winz.  The New Kiwis programme gives firms a no-obligation chance to fill vacancies with migrants.  Over 370 people have found work since the scheme started last year.  But another 3,600 are registered.  Network Marine Group director Wayne Shaw says the scheme allows employers to "try before you buy" and overcome any doubts about migrants' capabilities.  Lu is already helping the firm to expand its business in China but has no plans to return.  "New Zealand has a great future," he says.

New Kiwis is one of several programmes started in recent years as Government agencies and employers belatedly try to improve migrant "settlement outcomes".  Chamber chief executive Michael Barnett says employer resistance to taking on migrants is not just down to language barriers and cultural differences.  Some migrants, used to specialised roles with large firms, have attitude problems and find it hard to adapt to the generalised requirements of small New Zealand firms, such as doing their own photocopying.  On the other hand, employers should not expect to "sit down and discuss cricket and rugby scores on a Monday morning" with new migrants, he says.  Employers need to show tolerance and patience and the rewards can include new ways of doing things and improved access to foreign markets.

Employers and Manufacturers Association chief executive Alasdair Thompson says 39% of member firms say labour shortages are a significant constraint on growing their businesses.  "If they can overcome them with skilled migrants they can greatly expand productivity and help to grow the economy to achieve the sort of wage rates we would like to have in New Zealand."

Source: The New Zealand Herald 9 November 2002 photo credit Alan Gibson

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