12 Oct 2016

Migrants' parents cost NZ 'tens of millions'

9:15 am on 12 October 2016

Parents of people who have moved to New Zealand are being stopped from migrating here because they're a multi-million dollar burden on taxpayers.

Auckland Airport arrivals

Parents of migrants are able to move to New Zealand to be with their children, if they are able to sponsor them to be in the country. Photo: 123RF

Immigration Minister Michael Woodhouse has temporarily closed the parent category to new applicants, saying he is concerned too many migrants are not honouring their sponsorship commitments.

Every year about 5500 parents of migrants come to New Zealand. About half who enter under the parent category are Chinese and around 20 percent Indian.

Mr Woodhouse said a review of the category was needed.

"I have been concerned about the quality of some of the visa applications that have been received, the commitments that are made around sponsorship that haven't been met, and I think it's appropriate to pause while we review the category," Mr Woodhouse said.

"And that's why we've reduced it and suspended applications at this time."

22082016 Photo: Rebekah Parsons-King. Caucas run. Michael Woodhouse

Michael Woodhouse said emergency support for the parents of migrants was costing tens of millions of dollars a year. Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

Mr Woodhouse said migrant children who sponsored their parents to come to New Zealand had to have a minimum income of about $90,000 per couple, and had to make a commitment to support them.

"They are not eligible for normal income support for a period of time after they arrive, but nevertheless many of them have gone on to emergency support through the Ministry for Social Development and that suggests to me there is a problem - it's costing taxpayers tens of millions of dollars a year."

Mr Woodhouse said another factor in closing the parent category was the strain being put on the health system.

"Information that I've been given about the burden ... on the health services that are considerably higher than other people of that age who are eligible for New Zealand public health services."

New Zealand First leader Winston Peters has been a relentless critic of the parent category.

He said after years of denying there was a problem, the government was now finally admitting something was wrong.

"You've got 87,000 people now who have arrived in the last 15 years, who are able to access our health service immediately and our superannuation within ten years, which other country in the world allows that?

"Well the answer is none - just New Zealand."

However Immigration consultant David Cooper, of Malcolm Pacific Immigration, said Australia had an active programmme allowing parents of immigrants to settle in the country.

Mr Cooper said the New Zealand authorities had the power to enforce the committments to support parents.

He predicted the government would eventually permanently stop the parent category or significantly reduce the numbers.

Winston Peters at the Bridge run.

Winston Peters said the government was finally admitting there was a problem with the parent category Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

The director of Auckland University's Retirement Policy and Research Centre, Susan St John, said the parent reunification policy needed attention, given the costs to the health and pension systems.

"China is the source country of about 50 percent of people approved of in the parent category of family sponsored residents, and one problem is that after 10 years of residency the parent qualifies for a full New Zealand Super.

"Unlike for some other countries, there's no reduction to New Zealand Super regardless of that person's other resources, because currently there's no state pension paid from China."

The temporary closure of the parent category is one of a number of immigration setting changes the government announced yesterday - all aimed at reducing the record number of migrants coming to the country.

The higher end of the planning range for new residents over the next two years would be reduced from 100,000 to 95,000.

Under the changes which take effect today, those coming to New Zealand under the skilled migrant category will have to have 160 points before getting residency, rather than 140.

Mr Cooper said that would make even professionals such as architects and chief executives ineligible to apply if they lacked points for a qualification, experience or their age.

"We've had a stable points system for 14 years it's only just changed overnight."

Mr Woodhouse said no immigrants would have been given an incorrect commitment about their residence prospects, and his responsibility was policy, not what people's assumptions might have been.