There has been a slowly growing current of articles in the media and blogsphere lately about immigration.
The reasons for this, I think, is that the topic has started to become one which does demand discussion but also because things like Brexit and Donald Trump have pushed it back into the light (although often not with the best intents) and the result has been a freeing up of media space for the topic.
But is this a topic that NZ is really ready to discuss? Martin Van Beynen makes a persuasive argument for the fact that whether we like it or not we are going to have this discussion and I don’t really disagree with him but I think this chat will be far more into the “or not” space than the “like it” realm.
And my reasons for this view are simple and based on the fact that prior to my current line of work I spent over five years working for Immigration New Zealand (INZ) as an immigration officer dealing with cases deemed high risk.
The views that follow are shaped by not only working at the coal face but also from being required to deal with an immigration system which is not set up to deal with the problems it faced and the willingness of various governments to ignore the risks that were known in favor of pandering to short term gain and vested interests.
What I won’t be discussing in this post are any case specific details or any “juicy” bits of gossip (although I could regale readers with a fair few hair rising stories if so inclined) simply because that would be unprofessional but also because I agreed not to when I left INZ. What I will do is link things and if you follow the links you will know that there is more to those stories than is being reported.
What I will be discussing is the dynamic of immigration in NZ, what drives this immigration and the risks that exists and how INZ does (or does not) deal with them.
None of the points that follow are going to be particular mind blowing but I hope that by painting a picture from my point of view the reader may come to see what the issues are and why it will be difficult for NZ to have this discussion in any way but one very fraught with loaded undertones, and one in the end which we may regret having because it’s going to lay bare a lot of things we take for granted, cut to close the bone or one’s personal circumstances or simply because it will require the reader to accept facts which are just unpalatable.
I am not directly echoing Van Beynen’s position but his article made me realize that the growing surge of immigration related content that I was beginning to see might be part of the regular topic related media cycle (where, this time, its immigration's turn to be in the spot light for a month or two just like the housing hernia was before sinking back into blissful obscurity while the real problems and issues continue on) but this is not a topic that will be easily discussed or where its problems will be easily fixed by a few simple law changes.
What is on discussion is something which relates to all of us in one way or another and in a way all of us in this country are immigrants, sons or daughters of immigrants, married to immigrants, live, work or study with immigrants or are only third or fourth generation kiwis (Maori obviously excluded from that last one) or work in an industry which relates to immigration (think tourism) or deal directly with tourists. I myself am the son of a Canadian and a German/Australian with a mix of Irish, English, Scottish and Gypsy blood.
What is on discussion touches nearly the entire fabric of NZ and once you start pulling on that thread the whole rug could come unraveled which could do a lot more damage than good when you consider the fractures that were unveiled in the UK over Brexit or how Trumps divisive rhetoric tapped into a rather large voter base in the US (although that base somewhat hypocritically seemed happy to support Trump in his immigrant bashing racists views but were less happy with his sexism) and does little but fuel further suspicion, hatred and paranoia towards anyone not part of the racially and culturally accepted homogeneous whole.
It’s not zero sum argument but the only way succeed is to be fully open and honest and that is hard for any nation to do in any area or topic let alone one which might require it to examine its own dark history in depth and detail.
But first some housekeeping.
While I agree with Van Beynen’s argument about the difficulty of the discussion I have issue with his citing Treasury and Reserve Bank figures as the ending coda to his argument. Really? It took Treasury and the Reserve Banks opinion before you thought it was time to weigh in on this Martin? There were no other warning signs? No other indicators that something might be out of whack with NZs current immigration system.
It might be that Martin has only recently become aware of the issue and decided to do a little digging or perhaps the issue has come to him in the form of others (in this case the government) taking notice of the issue.
And it’s here that Martins argument starts to seem a little self-serving, a little like white flight and when you read his final line a little like the rallying call for those on the inside who are here to protect what they have, in what might be considered a nation scale version of gentrification or a gated community, from those outside who do not because that’s how it looks to an ex-immigration officer.
You might think that having worked with lots of high risk immigration I might be averse to letting people come to NZ but in fact it’s exactly the opposite. I just want the right people to come to NZ.
I understand that immigration is important to NZ but I also know that it’s not a one size fits all process or something abstract (although Croaking Cassandra does a good job of doing the numbers) that can be easily discussed. It’s a very human issue because at its core it is all about people, people coming to NZ.
So where to start? What nation or group should we highlight first? Should we go for the low hanging fruit like refugees or perhaps all the dodgy rich people we sell citizenship to? Perhaps we could examine the fact that INZ recently (temporary) closed off the parent/grandparent category for applications. Or we could look at one of my favorite areas, the ever popular student visa category?
Or we could look at how Kiwis ourselves expect to be treated when we travel the world and go live in other peoples lands and how we want to be treated when rock up to the border of a nation state. Do we give as good as we get? How do we treat the increasing number of migrant workers that come here looking for a better wage than they can get in their home country?
Or how about the way we deal with risk? Maybe we should question how much we know about who is actually living here, what their backgrounds and identities really are and where their wealth came from? Then again we could look at the history of various immigration scandals and scams (of which there are a quite a few) and how INZ often knows of them but remains unwilling to do anything about it due to pressure from its political masters.
The ugly truth is when you say “immigration”’ the discussion immediately turns to those who are seeking to come to NZ rather than how we facilitate entry to this country and Martin Van Beynans article exactly encapsulate that view.
It’s not that he is wrong but he summarizes only one side of the issue and that may be due to ignorance of the other side of the coin or (I believe) an unwillingness on his part to want to discuss the other side because it reflects back badly on us and not the people we may end up demonizing.
But again I am not shy of describing immigration risk or admitting that it exists but if I was to proffer an analysis of NZs immigration system I would say that its deeply flawed and we have compromised ourselves in order to facilitate easy tourismdollars, offset a stagnant economy by bringing in cheap labour and to ignoring international reputation damaging people we happily let in because they have friends in high places.
Our current immigration system is broken but not in the way that Van Beynen thinks. We currently process immigration applications like a production line, standardizing what we do and setting daily weekly quotas to which middle managers have to meet no matter the risks or the pressure on staff.
We outsource a wide range of work to foreign parties (including making decisions on applications and handling important documents) despite warnings of the risk or danger inherent. Also INZ has a long history of its own internal failures, most of which remain hidden, but where a few have partially surfaced (try googling ‘project crusade NZ” to get a taste of what can go wrong).
The public has only just started to become aware of the issues with the wide range of work visas being issued in NZ but several of these categories were created as payments to various nations for services rendered or votes /support given elsewhere or with a sudden reduction in oversight of their own nationals when they entered NZ no matter the risk.
The ugly truth of immigration in this country is that it serves a purpose and most of NZ benefits from it but those who benefit the most are often those who decide what our immigration policy should be not those who have to deal or live with the effects of it.
Immigration pressures have been cited as a factor in the housing hernia and it is correct as they do factor in but as many have pointed out it’s the government’s response (or lack of it) which is in fact creating the problem. Immigration is a similar issue.
Van Beynans article is honest and has some basis but is a quick road to thinking that it’s just a case of shutting the door when the issue is already inside the house; it’s been here all along.
I will write more on this at a later date but it’s worth ending things today with the following thought: A co-worker of mine was bemoaning the current immigration situation as they saw it. They expressed unhappiness with house prices going up into the stratosphere and the fact that they saw foreign speculators and immigrants as a prime cause. They then lamented the low wage situation and how wage increases were few and far between due to lots of “foreign talent” (as they sarcastically remarked) coming in. Finally they began to remark how they felt about “their country” being sold out from under them and how they felt powerless to do anything about it.
*-yes they were Maori.