Pre-pandemic rates of immigration are unsustainable if governments are unable to build infrastructure support needed to settle people in the community, says the Productivity Commission. 

In its preliminary findings and recommendations released this week, the Productivity Commission highlights the lack of a long-term immigration strategy for failure in planning infrastructure and housing to support an ageing as well as an increasing population.

In April this year, the Government asked the New Zealand Productivity Commission, an independent Crown entity to advise on immigration policies that are fit for New Zealand’s future.

The Commission took a long term view of 10−30 year to think about what NZ’s immigration system should try to achieve, and how it can best do that. It looked at what skills may be needed in the future, how to inculcate Te Ao Maori principles to the immigration system, along with a wider view on wellbeing factors, such as housing and infrastructure development.

The findings reveals that high number of permanent resident and temporary migrants have contributed to New Zealand’s rapid population growth over the past decade. This population growth has added pressure on public infrastructure such as roads, hospitals, schools.

Dr Nana, Chair of the Productivity Commission said, “New Zealand has struggled for a long time to absorb and accommodate more people well. Infrastructure and housing supply has not kept up with population growth, creating pressures that affect the wellbeing of both migrants and New Zealanders.”

The immigration policy’s disconnect from other policy areas, such as housing has meant that migration and population numbers have grown ahead of the stock and flow of public infrastructure, contributing to burdens for the wider community, states the report.

“To ensure immigration contributes to the productivity and wellbeing of New Zealanders, governments need to build the assets and infrastructure needed to support a growing population, in preparation for the number of new residents, ahead of time,” Dr Nana said.

The Commission has recommended a number of changes to ensure that future immigration settings are better connected to other government objectives.

It says that governments should be obliged to publicly state their objectives and priorities for immigration, and the steps it will take to ensure public investment matches need.

Immigration an election issue

The report also highlights that immigration is being used as an election issue by various political parties due to lack of clarity on long-term immigration strategy. “It means that the main vehicle for expressing concerns about immigration is through the election process, which has historically meant that some political parties have campaigned on immigration policy. This can lead to policy responses that are blunt or narrowly focused, and which do not necessarily serve the long-term interests of the community as a whole”, says the report.

The Commission also recommends the Government to remove visa conditions that tie a migrant to a specific employer. “These conditions make migrants more vulnerable to exploitation and limit the ability of migrants to find jobs that best meet their skills and experience,” said Dr Nana.

In an interview with Indian Weekender in September, Dr Nana spoke extensively on the topic of migrant exploitation wherein he said that when it comes to migrant exploitation, there’s a question of obligation. “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”, he said.

The findings suggest that the number of temporary migrant visas with pathways to residence should be linked to the number of residence visas on offer.

Dr Nana said that “large queues for residency have left many migrants in flux and unable to settle. The mismatch between migrant expectations and the reality of residence falls well short of manaakitanga, and is not good for our international reputation as global competition for some skilled migrants intensifies”

The Commission seeks further feedback on these proposals till 24 December 2021, with a view to present the final report and recommendations to the Government in April 2022.

You can make your submissions here - www.productivity.govt.nz/have-your-say/make-a-submission/