The episode when Alex and his political advisor Sandy try to dig through the numbers in an attempt to come up with a coherent immigration policy

By Alex Tarrant

The scene: Alex, a Member of Parliament who may or may not be in Government or Opposition, has called in Sandy, his political advisor, to discuss a key policy as the General Election approaches.

S: Morning Alex. You mentioned on the phone something about devising a new immigration policy?

A: Morning Sandy. Yeah, well this morning I was listening to my favourite talk-back radio programme and they were saying we let 72,000 people into this country last year, when there’s double that number of unemployed locals. That’s outrageous. We need to do something about it.

S: Sure. Stroke of luck actually – I was going through the figures myself yesterday…

A: 72,000 physical people from overseas, coming to live here, when all these New Zealanders are on the dole!

S: Well if you’re going to be throwing numbers around like that, then actually 129,518 physical people arrived here to stay permanently or long term in the year to March.

A: What? That’s even more outrageous! Where’s that figure from? Why aren’t we talking about that number?

S: Well, 57,586 people left the country over the same period. So that’s why we talk about that net 72k figure.

A: Still, 129,000 people being let in when we have scores of people queuing for supermarkets…

S: That’s generally what you do in supermarkets

A: …queuing for supermarket jobs, Sandy. We’ve got to stop letting so many people in.

S: 31,995 were Kiwis coming home. And 6,124 were Australian citizens.

A: Well we can’t keep them out, I guess. Still, that leaves…

S: 91,399 who were not New Zealanders or Australians arrived during the past 12 months to live here…

A: …taking Kiwis’ jobs no doubt.

S: Well, of those arriving, we gave 43,725 of them work visas.

A: And what about the rest?

S: 16,763 already had residency visas, but they’re not citizens; 23,861 were students coming here to study – remember your promise to boost exports? Dairy prices dropped and we haven’t really done anything to boost value-added, so we’re now relying on tourism and education a bit more…

A: Yeah, yeah and we’re not anywhere near our goal, thanks for reminding me…

S: …6,327 of them were classed as ‘visitors’ and 693 were ‘other’.

A: So, last year we issued 43,000 work visas to foreigners while Kiwis sat there unemployed?

S: No.

A: But you just said…

S: I said, ‘of those arriving’. Actually in the year to March 2017 we issued 226,362 work visas.

A: Say that again.

S: 226,362.

A: But you just said only 129,000 arrived here, and 30% of them were Kiwis and Aussies.

S: 170,529 work visas were issued onshore – to people already here. That leaves…

A: 55,833 work visas issued to people who were outside the country last year.

S: That’s a fancy calculator.

A: Yeah I bought it during the leadership battle. So, at least 170,000 people are in the country on temporary work visas and 56,000 may or may not have arrived, and we had the power to not issue to them because we’re concerned that they’re taking Kiwis’ jobs?

S: Hmmmmmm not quite.

A: Arrrgghhh

S: The latest government figures I could find are that we had 132,781 people in this country on temporary work visas as of 30 June 2016.

A: That’s almost a year ago! What about those numbers until the end of March you were talking about?

S: 226,362 work visas issued during the year to March 2017.

A: Where were these people from?

S: Well, 108 from Afghanistan, 13 from Albania, 9 from Algeria, 1 from Andorra.

A: How many from China?

S: 22,335

A: India?

S: 36,445

A: And most of them are applying for visas from onshore? How did they get here in the first place?

S: Well, some were students and they want to stay, some are here on working holiday visas and want to extend…

A: I’m not worried about Working Holiday Schemes. Anyway, tough to cut them if we don’t want reciprocal moves. Take them out of whatever number we’re working with.

S: Ok, 226,332 minus 74,704, that’s 151,658. While we’re at it, we should probably take out foreign vessel shipping crews, humanitarian migrants and rich entrepreneurs. That takes us to 148,920 in the year to March.

A: 74 thousand?! Well, still plenty of room to cut. You said some of them were students – I take it you were using past tense and not dropping into that habit of reported speech you have. They came and they haven’t left?

S: That’s right, they’ve finished their studies, and if they have an acceptable enough qualification we give them a bit of time to find a job here.

A: Acceptable enough…like a Bachelor’s degree in Engineering? Construction diploma?

S: Yeah. Or a level 4 National Certificate in Animal Management.

A: Like a vet?

S: More like being able to implement a health and safety plan in an animal care or training facility and ensure compliance with regulatory procedures. For people who want to be pet sitters. It’s on the skilled occupation list.

A: Hmmmm. So how long can these people stay in the country looking for a job then?

S: 12 months.

A: How do they afford that if they don’t have a job?

S: Well they can work in any job for 12 months until they find one that matches their qualification.

A: No shortage of pet sitters I’d bet. How many people were given this visa last year then?

S: Give or take a few, about 21,000.

A: Jeepers. And they can take any job for a year?

S: Any job.

A: Don’t they get lonely? They’ve just spent a bunch of time studying here away from their families and now they’re going to take an extra year trying to find a job. I know I would.

S: Yeah, perhaps the ones whose partners aren’t here on relationship work visas with them.

A: Relationship work visas eh. Come on then, how many?

S: 37,078. But that includes Entrepreneurs’ Partners, Partners of people on work visas, partners of NZAID students, partners of students, the Partnership Visa and Partnership Deferral.

A: Heavens. Who’s left then? And make it quick. It’s getting late on a Friday afternoon and I didn’t think this would take that long. Why can’t we just talk about that 72,000 figure? Too many numbers.

S: Evidence-based policy…

A: Oh yeah. Keep forgetting about that.

S: There’s also a corrella…a link, between the Australian economy doing well, and fewer people wanting to come to New Zealand. So, the amount of people coming here should drop away when the Australian economy starts to get better – you won’t be seeing such a high net figure – that 72,000 you were talking about – once the Australian labour market recovers.

A: Will that happen before the election?

S: Probably not.

A: Good. That number’s going to be gold-dust on the campaign trail. Ok, who else did we issue work visas to last year then?

S: Well, 1,963 came under the ‘Approved in Principal’ category. That’s one of the Essential Skills ones under which employers are allowed to hire a bunch of people on the skills shortage list.

A: Well that isn’t many. What else? What about all those people who come in to pick fruit? You know, the ones with small ha…

S: We call them RSE workers. 11,110 of them approved last year.

A: We can’t cover that ourselves?

S: Well you know young people these days. Smoke too much dope, don’t they. And there was something about the social consequences of moving people around the country multiple times a year due to different seasonal work being in different places.

There were 33,285 work visas issued under ‘other’ last year. Exchange work, consular staff, Graduate Work Experience…

A: We just went over graduates.

S: This is another one. Basically, if you do have an offer for work. Anyway, to be fair, half of ‘other’ relates to Specific Purpose or Event visas – about 15,000 of those were issued last year.

Another one you might be interested in is a Section 61 Visa.

A: What’s that? For spies or something?

S: No, it’s the visa you apply for if you’re in the country illegally.

A: That just doesn’t sound right in my head.

S: 2,167 last year. Oh, there’s also Work to Residence – 3,813 last year. That’s a two-year visa if you can cover a long-term skills shortage.

A: Skill shortages, yeah hold on, let’s talk about those. What about these Essential Skills migrants then.

S: 38,320 under the Skilled Work substream last year. And 205 under the Skilled Migrant Category.

A: Taking skilled jobs from Kiwis!

S: Or filling jobs that we can’t fill ourselves.

A: Like pet groomers?

S: Yeah, alright.

A: 38,000 skilled worker visas issued last year, and we can’t even find enough truck drivers. Barry down the pub the other day told me we were turning away truck drivers. Can you believe that?! There’s a shortage of truck drivers in New Zealand and we’re not letting them in…

S: 621 foreign truck drivers were granted visas to come to or stay in the country last year. British, Fijian, Hungarian, Indian, Dutch, Irish, even a Zambian truck driver was given a visa.

A: Oh.

S: Maybe he’s just not offering high enough rates of pay to attract the workers – locals and foreigners?

A: Who, Barry? Nah Barry’s a good guy. His anecdotes have backed up heaps of my policies…

S: I thought I’d warned you to stop relying on anecdotes?

A: …last year Bazza was saying how much better it is for the economy to transport freight with trucks driving on highways with regular motorists than it is putting the freight on trains.

S: But wouldn’t putting more freight on trains help reduce the truck driver skill shortage gap?

A: …

S: We were talking about immigration…

A: Here’s an better idea. Let’s wait until everyone else has put their policies out then nick the best bits. I’m hungry. Afternoon tea?

S: There’s that new café around the corner.

A: Great idea. Pierre makes a wicked soufflé. He was telling me the other day how much he enjoys living here.

S: Well, Bakers are on the shortage list.