In 2019, Indians in New Zealand contributed $10 billion to the New Zealand economy. Migrants have always been integral to the fabric of New Zealand’s society and have made a more than a significant contribution to the country’s economy. And yet, despite that important role, the New Zealand immigration system has not had a fundamental review since the 1990s.

Now, the Government has asked New Zealand Productivity Commission, an independent Crown entity that provides evidence-based analysis and advice about ways to improve productivity in New Zealand, for advise the on what immigration policies are fit for New Zealand’s future. 

The Commission’s job is to take a longer 10-30-year view and to think about what New Zealand’s immigration system should be trying to achieve, and how it can best do that. It looks at what skills may be needed in the future, do the visa categories need to be reviewed, how can the policies inculcate Te Ao Maori principles to our immigration system, along with considering other factors that contribute to the overall wellbeing of New Zealanders. 

Indian Weekender spoke exclusively to Dr Ganesh Nana, Chair, New Zealand Productivity Commission on the questions raised in New Zealand’s immigration, productivity and wellbeing issues paper and what are the factors are under consideration before recommendations are put forth to the government.  

Can you elaborate on New Zealand’s immigration plan over the last 30 years? 

Our initial finding has been that there hasn't been a plan, so to speak. There hasn't been a coherent plan in terms of immigration, and that's part of the inquiry that the Productivity Commission is running. 

In the last 30 years, you could loosely say it's been around filling gaps in the labour market. It has been haphazard. 

Our inquiry will find out what has been productive and beneficial in the last few decades, and where it hasn't. We will look for evidence and lessons from there to develop an explicit, coherent plan for the next 30 years.

Will the Productivity Commission recommend New Zealand look at the changes that other OECD countries are taking into consideration? 

We haven't got to our recommendations yet, and that's part of the jigsaw puzzle that we need to consider. I think though we need to recognize and realize that it's not just COVID that has caused these issues of global competition for skills. There has always been a global competition for skills of various occupations, and that is going to get even more and more intense into the future. 

Whether they be health skills or technical skills. New Zealand needs to think about the sort of skills it needs and how it's going to attract those skills in the context of a more intense market for skills out there in the world.

New Zealand’s reputation has taken a hit after recent border closures, delay in immigration processes – is that a concerning factor that's been taken into consideration by the Productivity Commission?

It's coming through in our conversations and engagements, and so it'd be silly to ignore that. 

I think what we need to understand and our recommendation back to Government when we formulate them will be around, what's good for New Zealand and what sort of reputation we might want to foster because it's not just signals from immigration policy, that then does impact on overall relationships with the rest of the world. 

Our previous inquiries from the Productivity Commission about Frontier Firms was about how it was vital for New Zealand to have connections with the rest of the world. So, we can't look at this in isolation. 

Migrant exploitation is an issue that many Kiwi-Indians are concerned about. What are the questions that were put forth on this issue in the paper?

There's a question of our obligations – if we are to invite migrants into our country, what obligations do we have, and that's a very hot topic which we will be tackling. 

We are quite keen to make some recommendations about obligations, not just on employees, but on our own community. That’s central to the overriding theme in our terms of reference about bringing a Te Ao Maori perspective, the concept of Manaakitanga, the concept of who we are in terms of our immigration policy. We are inviting visitors to our home, and we have an obligation to look after those visitors.

In terms of obligations on employers, we have a question that what obligations do those employers have, not just to the migrants but also to other domestic workers. 

There is a question about how can we get past that power imbalance? Especially if migrants are tied to specific employers, there's a clear risk thereof that imbalance of power, there is a risk of exploitation. 

There are a few very important questions that we will be thinking about and then making our recommendations.

Has the Commission considered a skill mismatch that may correlate to a decrease in productivity, in their recommendations? 

Absolutely, that’s the thing about skills.  As a part of our obligations, if we do have migrants coming in, if they come in under the belief that they'll be able to use their qualifications, use their skills, they may come here and find their skills are not recognized, then we haven't fulfilled our obligations and we haven't done right. 

So, we do have to be clear in terms of what skills were after and why, and that goes back to our fundamental reasons for immigration.

Will the Productivity Commission provide recommendations to work with small businesses to transform their recruitment, which will help to get more local workforce, which in turn will help local wellbeing?

There are lots of arms of policy and arms of government that are engaging with small businesses, in terms of skill development, terms of trading, in terms of local labour market jobs. It's a matter of making sure all those things are not working against each other, and where does immigration fit into that jigsaw puzzle. 

So, yes, we will be considering all those things, but also at the same time, we are keen to receive submissions on our issues paper, which is still open, from businesses and individuals and communities in response to those questions.

Will the Productivity Commission look at suggestions from the industry on jobs that might no longer exist in 10 years because of automation, AI? 

No, we are not. The Commission has already completed an inquiry into Technological change and the future of work. It found that technology doesn’t just replace jobs, it also creates them. Technology has many effects on the labour market, some of which are positive for workers, the quality of work, and jobs. Predictions that technology will inevitably replace work are simplistic and out of step with historical experience.  

There’s going to be a lot of automation in agriculture going forward, and NZ is highly dependent on seasonal labour, is the Commission taking into consideration what will happen to that labour in the future? 

Yes, we are consulting with industry and other experts and conducting research and analysis into seasonal labour and will be making relevant policy recommendations.

Will other cultural factors be taken into consideration while designing these recommendations? 

I think we can't ignore them. We must look at it from a positive perspective. One of the benefits of migration is the building of a diverse community. These communities understand a range of cultures, society, values that also then reinforces our connections to various parts of the world, which not only improves our economy and productivity performance but also, our overall wellbeing. 

So, it goes back to square one about what is the objective of immigration and whether our policy settings are consistent with our overall values, about Te Ao Maori perspectives, around whanau, manaakitanga, and all those other elements. 

Some people see immigration as just about bringing in workers. But it's bringing in people, and people bring in their families, so it’s that family-community perspective, and overall wellbeing that drives whether the immigration policy is good or bad.

Submissions can be made via the Productivity Commission website. A draft report with proposed recommendations will be released in October 2021. A final report will be presented to the Government in April 2022.