Immigration in New Zealand law

In practice immigration and emigration are human realities, which pre-date both the modern understanding of these terms, and the contemporary definition of the nation state. In the modern era while citizens of a particular nation state enjoy an undisputed right of residence, the residence of immigrants is contingent upon conditions set by immigration law and policy. As noted by former UN General Secretary, Kofi Anan, the current global character of migration is now a growing phenomenon both in scope and complexity, which affects virtually all countries in the world.

1 This essay addresses three issues in regard to the portentous question of immigration; firstly, should New Zealand have an immigration programme; what factors comprise the major benefits and detriments of an immigration programme; and lastly, whether the New Zealand government's current immigration programme is sourcing the right migrants required for economic growth. Should New Zealand have an Immigration Programme? Immigration is a particularly significant issue for our country as New Zealand is routinely referred to as a nation of immigrants, and immigration has been a significant driver of population change since the mid-19th century.

At the time of the 2001 Census, just under 20% of residents recorded an overseas birthplace giving New Zealand one of the highest proportions of overseas born in the population of any OECD country. 2 If we regard an immigration programme as a rational, coherent and structured selection process, which facilitates the aims of immigration legislation and policy, the response to the question at hand, must be affirmative. The alternative would either be not to allow immigration at all, or to respond to immigration demands in an incoherent, ad hoc fashion.

The latter option would foster uncertainty among potential immigrants and possibly lead to a chaotic 'open slather' of immigrants, boding unfavourably for their reception by New Zealanders, and their integration into New Zealand society. It is, of course, completely unrealistic not allow immigration at all, which would earn us the approbation of virtually all other nations and be completely irreconcilable with the fact that over 800,000 New Zealanders currently live in other countries. 3

Any New Zealand immigration programme must reflect the reality that immigration policy is an intensely potent tool in shaping the identity and future direction of a nation. It can immediately and effectively modify the composition of a nation's population, and thus shapes culture through demographic changes. Of similar importance is the influence immigration policy has on the economy in terms of determining the availability and cost of both unskilled and highly skilled labour, and in fuelling growth in different regions of a country.

4 An immigration programme is particularly necessary for a small country such as New Zealand, given the diaspora of New Zealanders, many of whom are young and skilled, our declining birth rates and ageing population. 5 The challenge for New Zealand has been the formulation and operation of a coherent and strategic immigration programme. Such a programme must identify and address both our long term and short term needs, and be designed to produce tangible economic and social benefits for the country.

It must also be adequately supported by appropriate social policies and programmes designed to assist immigrant settlement and to promote their successful integration into New Zealand society. 6 Until the 1980s New Zealand's immigration programme did not meet the above objectives, and although not explicitly stated as such, was based primarily on "eugenic quackery and rank prejudice"7 with immigrants from 'traditional' source countries such as the United Kingdom, Europe and North America being preferred.

However, in 1986 a major review of immigration legislation and policy, which was statutorily enacted in 1987, resulted in an immigration policy that did not explicitly discriminate on the basis of nationality and ethnic origin. Under the Immigration Act 1987 the emphasis was placed on migrants meeting specified educational, business, professional, age or asset requirements. 8 This change in underlying immigration objectives, and the introduction of a points based assessment system in 1991, attracted significant numbers of Asian immigrants.

The result has been an influential change in the composition of New Zealand society with the 2006 Census identifying Asians as comprising 9. 2% of New Zealand's population. Since 1987 successive governments have made adjustments to immigration legislation and policy, and a Bill to replace the existing 1987 Act is currently before Parliament. However, the consistent emphasis in our immigration policy and programme since 1987 has been on immigrants as 'human capital'.

To this end we have sought people who are able to quickly and effectively match their skills with employment opportunities in New Zealand, who will foster the development of strong international linkages, and who will contribute to New Zealand's proclaimed culture of 'enterprise and innovation' through their business investments and entrepreneurial activities. 9 In sum, the practical realities of New Zealand's need to increase the proportion of working age population and to balance the high levels of New Zealanders' emigration necessitate an immigration programme.

However, the proviso is that this programme must be based on meeting both New Zealand's economic (long and short term) and social needs, our international humanitarian obligations through our (albeit minimal) refugee scheme, and that we have the support systems in place to ensure the most seamless and positive transition possible for such immigrants. The Benefits and Detrimental Aspects of an Immigration Programme

The highly contentious and often emotive nature of debate on immigration testifies to the fact that immigration programmes contain the potential for both benefit and detriment. Here, we seek to outline briefly the main perceived advantages and disadvantages inherent in an immigration programme. The previous section has already outlined several of the most obvious and tangible benefits of an immigration programme for a country such as our own in alleviating the effects of the net drain of working age citizens overseas, and in addressing the problem of declining fertility rates.

10 In addition to these factors, the primary and inter-related arguments in support of immigration are its economic benefits, both for the receiving and the source country of immigrants, and the ethnic and cultural vitality and diversity it engenders. In terms of economic benefits, immigrants world wide, are pivotal in fulfilling chronic shortages of both skilled and unskilled labour. This is particularly relevant to the New Zealand situation.

The Department of Labour's May 2007 report highlights the problems facing New Zealand businesses in obtaining both skilled and unskilled staff, and identifies the shortage of labour as the main constraint on expansion for 22% of firms. 11 In a scoping paper measuring the economic impact of immigration in New Zealand, Poot and Cochrane, point to the consensus among immigration researchers that, "broadly speaking immigration is not detrimental to the host labour market or economy generally.

12 In terms of New Zealand's situation, a 1998 study by the Berl economic group found that migrants' contributions of between $4. 5 billion in income tax, GST and other government taxes exceeded the $3. 4 billion spent by the government on migrant's health, education, superannuation and benefits. 13 Migrants are also a significant source of investment of personal capital and in 2002 Asian immigrants' investment in New Zealand through resident companies and individuals was estimated at around $7 billion.

14 There are other areas, albeit more elusive of precise measurement, where the impact of immigrants is likely to be beneficial such as the transfer of their talent, knowledge and expertise, their contribution to the internationalisation and effectiveness of personal business networks, and expanded domestic demand for goods and services which are specific to the needs of these new ethnic communities.