11 Aug 2016

Govt has 'ideological blinkers' on immigration - Labour

5:49 am on 11 August 2016

Record numbers of work approvals and a sharp increase in new residents have put renewed pressure on the government to rein in immigration

More than 200,000 people were issued temporary work visas in the year ending June, almost 30,000 more than the year before.

Over the same period, the number of new residents grew by 20 percent to 52,000.

These figures followed record high net migration in the year to April with a net gain of 68,000 people.

Labour Party housing spokesperson Phil Twyford said immigration was putting pressure on both housing and the labour market.

Labour MP, Phil Twyford.

Labour Party housing spokesperson Phil Twyford. Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

"You look at the skilled migration quota, those people aren't all people who are coming in, they're not skilled tradespeople who are coming in to work in the construction industry.

"We're saying the government should throw off the ideological blinkers and review the immigration policy."

Minister of Immigration Michael Woodhouse said there was an annual allowance for new residents of between 45 to 50,000 which has only been topped in the past year.

05072016 Photo: Rebekah Parsons-King. Caucus run. Michael Woodhouse.

Minister of Immigration Michael Woodhouse. Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

He said the main drivers were people brought in to fill skill shortages and temporary work and student visas.

Mr Woodhouse rejected accusations immigration was out of control.

"Immigration is a stable, demand driven policy that we've had in successful governments and we certainly make no apology for the fact that New Zealanders want to stay in their own country and they're coming home to it.

"But I'd also challenge them to say when they talk about the hyperbole around turning down the tap, they're very lacking in detail about where they might do that - they don't want to touch humanitarian, they don't want to touch partnership, they don't want to touch skills."

And Mr Woodhouse said the settings were always under review.

"For example we've taken 56 occupations off the skills shortage list because we have Kiwis who are able to do the job.

"Now that might upset some businesses but in fact we're constantly reviewing where those shortages are and in what occupations."

New Zealand First deputy leader Ron Mark said the government had failed to train the many thousands of unemployed to do these jobs, which has led to an open door immigration policy.

NZ First MP, Ron Mark.

New Zealand First deputy leader Ron Mark. Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

"The government has to turn the tap off or down, but they've created a mess they have no way out of.

"We now have an acute shortage of tradespeople through failed trade training and coupled to that you have a housing crisis ramped up by rampant immigration, it's chicken and egg.

"You can't bring in more and more people and not accept you're going to generate more stress on infrastructure and more need for building," Mr Mark said.

Labour's Phil Twyford agreed.

"We have some acute skills shortage in the construction industry because of the total failure of this government to invest on workforce planning.

"They should have thrown open the doors of the polytechs and trained up thousands of young New Zealanders in the construction trades after the GFC (global financial crisis) ... ideally you wouldn't be importing skilled tradespeople from overseas."

Minister for Economic Development Steven Joyce said the government was investing in training, and keeping a close eye on temporary work visa approvals.

Steven Joyce at bridge run.

Minister for Economic Development Steven Joyce. Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

And he said there was a requirement to determine whether New Zealanders were available for the jobs, before allowing other people in on temporary work visas.

But Mr Joyce said a bigger challenge was labour mobility.

"Often the jobs are where the people aren't and of course we're very keen for New Zealanders to move to those areas.

"For example the South Island has had lower unemployment than the North Island now for most of the five or six years, and yet a lot of people in the North Island, for whatever reason, don't want to move to the South Island."

Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei said the high numbers of visas would have some impact on jobs and housing, but she was reluctant to push for any reduction.

Greens co-leader Metiria Turei

Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei. Photo: RNZ / Elliot Childs

"At the moment I think we need to be really careful and thoughtful about looking at immigration, what its benefits are, what the potential issues are with it and not making any rash judgements - so I've got nothing to say about that at this stage."

However, Mr Mark said a debate needed to be had.

"Just as some would accuse us of using immigration to ramp up ourselves in the polls, we would accuse them of downplaying the problem, deliberately going out and calling other political parties and politicians racist and xenophobic to avoid the discussion," he said.

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