The Government's looming partial backdown on recently announced migration limits points to the folly of lazy policy formulated through opinion polls and public reaction

By David Hargreaves

Well, let’s wait and see what the Government announces, but the news it is planning some sort of backdown on planned changes to the skilled migrant settings announced only in April, is I think, hugely disappointing.

The Government will presumably valiantly claim it is not u-turning and it will probably also try to gain some sort of moral high ground for listening to the views of Kiwis and particularly employers.

Of course, no sort of u-turn, call it what you will, would have been necessary if the Government had canvassed opinions in the first place.

What’s so wrong with going out to some key employers and asking for views on your proposals?

There’s two ways of viewing this climb-down; the policy wasn’t right and after hearing views it should have heard before announcing it in the first place, the Government’s now changing the proposals, or, maybe the policy was okay, but it just didn’t suit some fairly influential voters in an election year – so, the Government caved.

The proposals as announced looked unnecessarily complicated to me. And the use of pay scales to put restrictions on immigration seems a move that’s too cute by half. It’s effectively a bar without being a bar.

The fact is the Government would not have done anything at all if it didn’t perceive the immigration issue as one that could damage it in the September 23 election.

Answering polling results is the ultimate kneejerk and lazy way to formulate policy.

And if you are jumping in response to what your pollsters tell you are hot buttons, you will come out with diabolical short-termist solutions, solutions that might cause more problems.

Whether there was another way of pacifying employers after this policy had been introduced, we now won’t know.

In general, I still don’t like the idea of filling jobs with people from offshore when there are people in New Zealand unemployed.

Now, yes, the obvious reaction to that is that many of them don’t have skills and are simply not motivated.

The problem is though, as I’ve said before – we are stuck with anybody who was born in this country. We can’t send them off somewhere and say: “Oh, they are not skilled and they are useless – you take them.”

The reality is this country has got to properly tackle the whole issue of just why reasonably significant numbers of young people are not being given the right skills and motivation to get them into the workforce and to fill jobs that need filling.

And I do wonder whether certainly some employers have just got rather used to the idea and more comfortable with the idea of simply reaching into the overseas market for employees because that’s just easier.

But in terms of the long-term health of the country, it is not good.

So, what we’ve had here effectively is a Government issuing an original proposal that is a kneejerk response to polling, followed by a kneejerk reaction from employers and then a kneejerk reaction to that reaction from the Government.

This is not the way good sustainable policies are made.

Behind the headline record high latest migration figures is the very telling statistic that in the 12 months to June, an all-time high 45,000 people arrived here on work visas. That’s an increase of 15.2% in the past year. And the Christchurch rebuild is no longer an excuse. The numbers of people coming in on work visas have more than doubled since 2011.

If we are serious about keeping checks on migration, then this is the place we need to start.

But what we don’t need is hastily scrambled together quick fixes done by a cynical government that’s only got its eye on opinion polls and the next election.

The social penalties for an ill-thought-out policy on migration are considerable.