19 Oct 2019

'High cost' parent visa could deter skilled migrants

6:45 pm on 19 October 2019

Skilled migrants could be detered from coming to New Zealand by the new Parent Visa Category requirements, say immigrants and recruitment advisors.

Finance - coins, calculator and table of figures.

Photo: 123RF

From February 2020, skilled migrants with residency are able to bring their parents to New Zealand. However, the financial requirements New Zealand immigrants must meet so their parents can qualify for the visa have significantly increased from where they were in 2016.

An immigrant and their partner are now required to have a minimum combined income of $212,160, which is four times the median salary, to sponsor their parents move to New Zealand.

Under the previous National government, the income threshold was set at $90,000.

For Gourav Sharma, who was invited to apply for residency under the Identified Future Growth Area Visa, the new income standards are impossible to meet.

"In this country there are just only a few professions where you can earn over $100,000, otherwise most of the professions your income would be just around the $60,000 to $70,000 mark."

Mr Sharma said the visa is culturally insensitive.

"In our culture parents do not stay in like old age homes, they always stay with their kids and as I am the only son of my parents, the onus of the responsibility in there later phase of their life is on me."

Mr Sharma said comments that immigrant parents coming to New Zealand are a significant burden on infrastructure and health system are false.

A government report by the Education and Workforce Committee in July said, "There is no evidence that parent category visa holder are taking up social assistance in significant numbers."

It goes on to say that 0 percent of a sample cohort of parent visa holders were on benefits within their first two years in New Zealand. The figure slightly rose to 1 percent after 2 to 5 years.

Mr Sharma said if more New Zealanders were aware of these numbers it would placate fears that immigrant parents would come to New Zealand and become a drain on taxpayers.

He said skilled migrants should definitely reconsider moving to New Zealand and instead consider other countries such as Australia and Canada which had more favourable parent visa laws.

Without a roadmap to bring his parents to New Zealand, Mr Sharma said he, and many of his friends who were in similar situations, were looking to relocate.

"I have spoken to at least a dozen people who say [their] number one contender they are intending to move to is Canada."

Rajni Garg, who moved to New Zealand nearly 5 years ago, was devastated when she learnt she would be unable to have her parents come live with her and her husband in their four bedroom house.

While they lived comfortably, the $200,000 income threshold was beyond her and her partners means.

She said she would be willing to pay for her parents private medical insurance if it meant they could live in New Zealand.

"The New Zealand government should not be giving [my parents] any free health or other services, [my husband and I] should be responsible for it. Based on their age, they may need good health services which could be costly and we are happy to pay for it."

When asked if she would recommend New Zealand to a skilled migrant looking for somewhere else to live, she was unwavering in her answer.

"Definitely not."

Ms Garg and her husband are now considering a move to Australia next year.

Business consultant and recruitment industry specialist, James Walker, said the new category could deter some migrants. However, he thought that for a small percentage of New Zealand Immigrants the income threshold could be a great motivator.

"There will be some of those in the New Zealand marketplace who do want to bring their parents over and it may work as a motivator and incentive for them to invest more, do more, and grow opportunities financially to be able to enable them to bring their parents over."

He said the new parent visa category and other changes to immigration policies, such as the new $79,000 threshold for the talent visa category, will make it harder for businesses to employ skilled migrants who can step into the office and "hit the ground running".

But he said people needed to consider counter arguments, as it appears that the new changes were targeted at the underemployed.

"There are hundreds of thousands of New Zealanders in the workplace who are underemployed at the moment. What that means is they possess a great level of competency, a great level of skill. They might not have the past work experience that actually shows that, but they're more than capable performing some of these roles that migrant workers come here to do."

He said the onus will now go onto businesses to invest in the training and recruitment of staff who are possibly outside the industry. But he acknowledges it would be tougher for small businesses who do not have the capital to invest in staff development.

He said the government may need to look at a way to support small to medium sized organisations to train under-utilised workers in the marketplace.

The Minister for Immigration, Iain Lees-Galloway, said all cultures want to ensure that their parents are looked after.

He said the government reopened the parent category after the last government closed it indefinitely after being concerned about the costs of the programme. But he said the closure of the category had put people's lives into limbo and was unfair.

"We have reopened the parent category, but with tighter criteria to ensure that parents will be fully supported by their children. This is a category of residency specifically for highly skilled migrants parents only, and hence the income levels match our new skilled migrant category income thresholds."

He said the previous settings for financial eligibility needed to be updated.

"The new thresholds are indexed to the median New Zealand salary and are now consistent with other residence categories. The median wage [applies for] each person involved - ie 1 child sponsors 2 parents = 3 people to support, so 3 x the median wage.

"I understand some people will be disappointed, however we need to give people clarity after being left in limbo by the previous government, and also be sure that parents are well supported once they get here.

"New Zealand has a strong economy and is full of opportunities. Record numbers of people are applying to come to our country and re-opening the parent category is only going to make us even more attractive to people who want to work and live in Aotearoa."

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