Labour policy targets residency 'backdoor'

6:44 pm on 12 June 2017

The Labour Party is vowing to close what it says is a backdoor to residency created by government policies encouraging low-skilled work and low-level study.

Labour leader Andrew Little

Labour leader Andrew Little Photo: RNZ / Brad White

Labour leader Andrew Little announced the party's immigration policy in Auckland this afternoon and promised to cut immigration numbers by 20,000 to 30,000 a year.

He said Labour would also create a new KiwiBuild Visa targeted at builders.

"The KiwiBuild Visa will allow building firms to bring in skilled workers as long as they also train the same number of New Zealanders and will be additional to construction work visas issued under existing rules," Mr Little said.

Mr Little said while migrants enrich the country, it was time New Zealand took a breather and ensured immigration levels were sustainable.

Mr Little said the government had failed to plan for the record immigration, and couldn't offer new arrivals the life and opportunities they were expecting.

"When our cities are groaning under the pressure of share numbers, when housing costs are rocketing, our roads are clogged, our schools are bursting at the seams and our public services at breaking point."

He said that was putting huge pressure on cities.

"After nine years, National has failed to make the necessary investments in housing, infrastructure, and public services that are needed to cope with this rapid population growth," Mr Little said.

"It's contributed to the housing crisis, put pressure on hospitals and schools, and added to congestion on roads."

Mr Little said a Labour-led government would stop issuing student visas for courses below bachelor level, unless they were assessed by government education agencies to be of high value.

"Low-value courses have become a back door to immigration," he said.

"A third of international students on low-level courses plan to stay here, that's twice the level in other countries. Labour will close the door on these routes to residency."

The party would also stop people working during and after low-level study courses, he said.

"We will end the culture of exploitation and corruption that's grown up to prey on people using this route to come to New Zealand."

Other parties attack new policy

Prime Minister Bill English said Labour's immigration policy would have a big impact on economic growth.

"The policy you've seen today reflects a view among the opposition parties that the best way to deal with these challenges is to shut down the growth.

"So choke the internal education industry, deprive the construction industry of the skills that it needs, don't worry about the impact on everything else because they think New Zealand isn't up to it - well we simply disagree with that," Mr English said.

"We think the best way to deal with sustained success is to deal with the challenges of finding the people, making the investments, grappling with the complexities of getting infrastructure and housing in place - rather than saying let's have a breather and a cup of tea."

ACT leader David Seymour warned however that New Zealand could find itself without the skills it needs if there was an immigration crackdown.

Act Party leader David Seymour.

Act Party leader David Seymour. Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

Speaking at the CHT St John rest home in Epsom, Mr Seymour said the challenge for any party wanting to slash immigration would be figuring out exactly who will be cut.

"Are they going to start cutting people who work at places like CHT St John - because we already have a major shortage," he said.

"The fact of the matter is ... St John already have major problems with immigration, their problem with immigration is they cannot get enough labour to look after their residents.

"They find that somebody who has been looking after a resident, formed a relationship with residents, cannot get their visas processed quickly enough in order to come back and be doing good work."

Mr Seymour warned that Labour's announcement would put further pressure on organisations like St John.

St John area manager Stuart Manning said it was already very frustrating that migrants who were trained as care workers were then asked to leave the country because their visas were not being reviewed.

"The situation is only going to get worse as the new policy changes ... come into play, which will only be compounded by the increase in the number of residential facilities and beds required over the next five years which is estimated to be somewhere in the region of 20 percent.

"We are very reliant on the migrant workforce, we train them so that they provide great care and they do provide great care and it's frustrating that we find that they can't stay in New Zealand."

In April, the government unveiled new immigration settings it planned to introduce this year.

It planned to make changes to the high skilled-migrant category - and people would have to earn $50,000 a year to qualify.

Anyone earning under that amount, would only be allowed in the country for up to three years and would have to go through a stand-down period before being eligible for another work visa.

Mr Manning said the policy would have a big impact on CHT St John.

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