Labour should set right the immigration regime

But it runs the risk of inept and heartless bureaucracy

Alastair McClymont

Almost everyone I speak to says the same thing: “Immigration will be harder under the Labour Government.”

This is not only migrants but also large employers. The common perception is that immigration numbers will reduce. But what can we expect and more importantly, what do we need to see change?

Containing fraud and exploitation

Labour’s immigration policy is not necessarily aimed at reducing migration numbers; their priority is to target the rampant fraud and exploitation which characterises the current immigration system.

An immediate response to this significant issue is to increase funding and resources into fraud detection, investigation and prosecution, strengthen the rules around fraud and exploitation and to increase funding for the Labour Inspectorate.

Practically speaking, we can expect to see a much stronger focus on ensuring that businesses that employ migrants have proper employment agreements, keep proper wage and time records and pay their staff properly.

Businesses that do not understand this and adjust quickly will simply be side-lined, blacklisted and will no longer able to hire migrant staff.

Shutting useless courses

In the longer term, we can expect to see the student visa market reduce significantly with the phasing out of low level courses in business and IT.

The government cannot just close private schools who provide these courses, but they can cut the demand for courses almost entirely by taking away the work rights of students wanting to do those courses. With no work rights, then what is the point in coming as an international student to study?

No Proper Plan

What concerns me however is that the government does not seem to have a wider plan to deal with the core issues.

First, fraud and exploitation occur because of the strong emphasis in immigration policies on having skilled and relevant job offers.

If the focus was more on the value of an applicant’s qualification, work experience and English then the desperate need that so many migrants must enable themselves to be victims of fraud and exploitation will disappear.

Second, if the government intends to kill off the bulk of the Indian international student market, then what is their plan to attract good quality post-graduate students to our universities and polytechnics to study courses which could be value to New Zealand?

I do not see any plan to offer incentives and attractive benefits to the millions of high quality students in India.

Powerless Minister

Finally, under the previous government, the immigration system was allowed to run into the ground. We had an Immigration Minister who clearly had no control over his ministry, had very little understanding of immigration policies and ignored the fact that his officials built their own little fiefdom that only valued money and not people.

The civil servants slowly hacked away at migrant rights, separated families, deported young children and workers who had been here for decades, ignored the fraud and exploitation rampant in the system.

The priority of this new government, who claim to so highly value empathy, human rights and the rights of the child must be to reign in the out-of-control immigration officials who run riot over decision making.

The Minister must personally intervene in unjust decisions and directives must be given to officials to consider the rights of families, of New Zealand born children, of businesses that depend on hard working migrants and of students who genuinely want the opportunity to study and work.

A culture change is needed, one in which migrants actually have rights, where decisions are properly examined and where government officials are judged on the quality of their decisions, not their ability to act like robots.

If this change does not happen, then history will judge this government’s immigration policy a failure.

Alastair McClymont is an Auckland-based Immigration Law Specialist. He has been associated with Indian Newslink since this newspaper was launched on November 15, 1999.

Additional Reading: 1. Economic fortune swings with declining migrant numbers under Businesslink and Our Leader, “Immigration Policy should be sound and just” under Viewlink.

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