Bernard Hickey says that Jacinda Ardern and Shane Jones are covering up the exploitation of student and temporary labour while cutting back on permanent migrants and that migrants have been duped into thinking permanent residency is a right of passage after a few years working here under a student or temporary visa.

“Just like the previous National government, Labour and New Zealand First have squeezed down permanent residency approvals to 35,000 last year from 42,600 in the election year. It was 51,700 the previous year to September 2016.

That means we are inviting in more and more temporary workers with the subtle and not-so-subtle suggestion we might let them stay,

but we’re making it harder and harder for them to win that permanence. We have become the Dubai of the South Pacific where we treat migrants as second-class or non-citizens, allow them to be exploited, and then throw them away when we’re done with them.”


Dubai is not my country of choice because of its extreme wealth and extreme poverty which doesn’t sit well with equal opportunity values. But is Hickey correct? Are we becoming a country of the very rich and the very poor?

In a world where people are encouraged to go “country shopping,” isn’t this simply a case of buyer beware? Why would any prospective migrant assume permanent residency follows on from a student or temporary visa?

Hickey also says the lack of infrastructure is tied to the number of permanent residents and by keeping permanent residency numbers down the government can spend less on infrastructure.

“This Government, also like the previous government, is also doing very little to deal with the infrastructure pressure from massive population growth driven by all the temporary workers.

“And the dirtiest secret of all is that’s just the way home-owning and business-owning voters like it because it keeps government debt down, keeps interest rates low, keeps house prices rising and keeps wages down.

“Treasury also loves it because all those workers are pumping up the surplus with fresh income taxes and GST revenues, but without the infrastructure spending to go with it.”

Treasury might love that they are not investing in infrastructure, but I can promise you that residents in the largest cities constantly bemoan the lack of improvement.

Hickey is wrong about the government splitting migration into categories of permanent and temporary.

“Statistics NZ has begun using a new, and more accurate, way of measuring migration, as the country does away with arrival and departure cards.

The new method is linked to passports and records electronic data on people’s movements in and out of the country.”


The CoL now measures migration in terms of people leaving and people arriving, not differentiating between permanent and temporary visa status.

“Renters and the migrants themselves, who are now finding it much harder to get permanent residency, are the biggest losers.

“Their wages are stagnant, they are often subject to exploitation (that the Government has done nothing about) and their rents are growing twice as fast as wages. Rightly, they are mystified and angry when we renege on our earlier and ongoing suggestions that they might get permanence at the end of their allotted three years. Others are rolled on temporary work visas again and again. Some aged care workers have been here for up to a decade.”


But everyone’s wages are stagnant, bar government employees who achieved their salary increases through strike action. Temporary migrants enjoy the same working conditions that permanent residents do, and minimum wages and health and safety laws benefit all workers. That being said, a complete overhaul of our labour market is well overdue because of the huge and increasing number of people on income support while we are still busy importing temporary labour.

“That’s what the growing anger in the migrant communities is really about. This effectively bi-partisan policy is both racist and profoundly not the New Zealand way.

“We are not treating our guests and workmates fairly, and we’re hurting our poorest in the process through short term and selfish thinking and governance. This ‘policy’, which is more a series of accidental and opportunistic decisions than a clearly debated or agreed policy, is effectively delusional and fraudulent.”

No, Mr Hickey, the anger in the migrant communities is because migrants’ rellies can’t enter New Zealand as easily as they did themselves 10 years ago. Times have changed and we are not responsible for resolving other countries’ shortcomings.

“But the dirty little secret is the coalition, just like the previous National-led government, has done little to slow arrivals of lower-skilled temporary migrants or build infrastructure for the resulting massive population growth.  

The bigger picture is this is effectively a bi-partisan migration ‘policy’ that is both delusional and fraudulent.

“The Government approved nearly 250,000 temporary work visas in the last year, up from 229,000 in the year up to the 2017 election. Rejections fell to 15,180 from 18,891.

“Student visa approvals are virtually unchanged from before the election at over 105,000. Yet residence visas are down to 35,000 from over 51,000 in 2016. We are squeezing in more and more temporary workers, and reducing their ability to become permanent residents. Auckland has become like Dubai but without as much sand and duty-free shops.”

Comparing our temporary labour market to Dubai’s cruel exploitation of cheap Asian labour and appalling work conditions is pure theatrics, but we still need to review migration in conjunction with our underutilised labour market.


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