27 Jul 2015

PM defends new immigration policy

11:51 am on 27 July 2015

Prime Minister John Key says the Government's new immigration policy will boost the number of migrants living in the regions, rather than Auckland.

At the National Party's annual conference in Auckland yesterday, Mr Key announced a change in immigration policy, under which skilled migrants with a job offer outside of Auckland will get higher bonus points when applying for residency.

New Zealand sign

John Key says the new immigration policy will boost the number of migrants heading to the region. Photo: 123RF

In return, migrants would need to commit to the regions for at least 12 months.

Mr Key told Morning Report about 45,000 people get residency each year overall, and the scheme would increase the numbers under the skilled migrant category who would go to the regions.

"At the moment, in that whole category, about ten thousand skilled migrants get residency. Half of them are in Auckland, half around the regions.

"I would have thought you would see an increase on that five thousand people we currently grant residency to in the regions."

John Key talking to media after his leader's speech.

John Key says skilled migrants with a job offer outside of Auckland will get higher bonus points when applying for residency. Photo: RNZ / Demelza Leslie

The Labour Party has criticised the announcement saying the Government had missed another opportunity to address Auckland's housing crisis, with nothing in Mr Key's speech to tackle it.

Housing spokesperson Phil Twyford said first home buyers in Auckland were drowning under an ever-rising tide of house prices but instead of dealing with the issue, he said "we get musing about more taxes, and a minor announcement about immigration."

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Labour housing spokesperson Phil Twyford said first home buyers were being pushed out of the Auckland property market. Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

Mr Key defended the policy changes on Morning Report and said people were unlikely to use the new system as a "back door way" of getting to Auckland.

"This stuff is probably at the margins when it comes to the Auckland housing market," he said.

Mr Key said it would not be possible to tell people they were never allowed to move from a regional centre.

"Your argument could be, well they'll just use this as a back door way of getting to Auckland," he said.

"Yes that's I suppose technically possible, but they'd have to end up having a job and all of those other things and if they do, they may well replace someone who would have come in under the skilled migrant (category) to go to Auckland - because overall we have a soft cap on the numbers who have residency."

Immigration changes

From November, skilled migrants with a job offer outside of Auckland would get higher bonus points when applying for residency.

They need at least 100 points to qualify for residency, while business owners need 120 points to qualify.

Entrepreneurs planning to set up a business in the regions would double the number of bonus points they get, from 20 to 40 points.

As part of the changes, migrants would need to commit to the regions for at least 12 months.

The labour market test would be streamlined to provide more certainty to employers wanting to bring skilled migrants into the country.

From the middle of next year, long-term migrants on temporary work visas in the South Island would also be given residency.

About 600 overseas workers in lower-skilled occupations in the South Island have been rolling over short-term work visas for more than five years.

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Michael Woodhouse Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

Immigration Minister Michael Woodhouse said the changes should improve the spread of skills and investment in New Zealand.

"These are small steps in that direction. As the economy grows, it's important to make sure that those regions are able to benefit."

"In terms of the entrepreneur visas, we're probably talking about 200 or 300. But look, this is a direction that we want to head in the long term.

"I think you'll see a small but significant shift in the pattern of migration over time."

Mr Key said the changes would help a large number of industries, particularly tourism and food production.

"Some of the manufacturing businesses that we see, some of the engineering businesses that support that, ICT for instance, there's plenty of ICT businesses being established right around New Zealand because people like living in some of the conditions where it's less congested."

'Dog-whistle' policy

New Zealand First leader Winston Peters said the proposed changes were a watered down version of a policy that his party had had for years.

"Our policy was for three to five years and that they would have to go to the provinces, and the idea was for long-term settlement in the provinces and one year simply won't do it.

"It's a dog-whistle, it won't change the Auckland configuration of mass migration and terrible undersupply of housing.

"It won't have people go to the provinces and be properly monitored as to whether they are there or not."

Green Party immigration spokesperson Denise Roche said the Government was trying to look as if it was doing something, without actually doing very much.

"Really it's a very superficial approach to sorting out overpopulation in Auckland and the lack of resources there. If they are going to provide resources in the regions for people for jobs and economic development, then that would be fantastic, but they are not doing that at all."

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