Worker exploitation, visa delays, ballooning application numbers and anti-immigration rhetoric could be among the toxic mix in election year.
On the agenda as well is work to target immigrants to the regions where they are most needed and to prioritise some residence applicants over others.
What can we expect to see in the year to come?
Two-Year Residence Programme
One of the first immigration announcements is expected to be the government’s new two-year residence programme.
It already lowered the target band of new residents to 50-60,000 and that may be changed again- and a cabinet paper suggests that it is looking at prioritising certain categories, possibly such as skilled migrants, and capping others – such as partnership visas.
The government is also rolling out new employer-assisted work visas and regional workforce planning. The government wants to find ways of getting industry to attract New Zealanders into those jobs immigrants are doing, in return for a streamlined visa process.
The first negotiations to make that happen are expected to be with the residential care and meat processing sectors, as industries that employ many immigrants.
Another change we will see this year is the refugee quota increasing to 1500 in July.
Six new settlement areas have been to the existing ones for refugees – Ashburton, Blenheim, Levin, Masterton, Timaru and Whanganui – and a lot of work is going on there in increasing housing supply in those areas, and with the community and health sectors.
Tackling worker and student exploitation and possible changes to Pacific immigration policies might also be looked at.
And apart from policy changes?
There is a lot of operational challenges too: while the politicians may be focused on the future, the here and now will always raise its head.
Last year, it was the debacle of partnership visas, and visa processing delays caused by international branch closures.
That is continuing and among the things that will crop up between now and the election may also be things like Karel Sroubek, the convicted drug dealer, who is appealing his deportation and appears before the parole board again later this month.
The intense debate
How important a role will immigration play in this year’s election?
New Zealand has historically not had highly polarised debates about immigration.
Immigration came up at the 2017 election, after concerns that it was exacerbating housing supply and infrastructure problems.
New Zealand First and Labour to a lesser extent campaigned then on lowering immigration. Whether they delivered on that – and whether voters liked how they did it – may be crucial.
It can depend on how you cut the numbers – new resident numbers are the lowest since the turn of the century, while work visa numbers are higher than they have ever been, and net migration is still at historically high levels.
Labour may hope it can point to its work in tackling immigrant exploitation and reforming work visas. National has criticised the government on its record, including problems that visa processing delays have caused for the economy and businesses.
If last year is anything to go by, New Zealand First will continue to press on with immigration as a key way to help bring home the vote.
It claimed credit for high income restrictions introduced on immigrants’ parents and a tougher line on partnership applications.
New Zealand First Minister Shane Jones recently suggested it may consider a population policy, after getting into a war of words with the Indian community.
“I’m on incredibly fertile ground for the party I represent,” he told RNZ.
He said that he was saddened by the “levels of verbiage that the Indian communal leadership have thrown at the party. I would just say to the activists from the Indian community, tame down your rhetoric, you have no legitimate expectations in my view to bring your whole village to New Zealand and if you don’t like it and you’re threatening to go home – catch the next flight home.”
Gill Bonnett is a Reporter at Radio New Zealand. The above Report and Picture have been published under a Special Arrangement with www.rnz.co.nz