More to gain from migrants

It’s not long ago that the opposition was complaining that too many people were leaving New Zealand.

Now the migration tide has turned in our favour, they’re complaining that too many are coming here.

In doing so they are resorting to dog-whistle anti-immigration sentiment and ignoring the fact that inwards migration helps the economy:

For a country with such a long history as a migration destination, it is astonishing just how quickly new migration can be portrayed as negative or even a threat. As the Treasury papers show, it is neither. 

On the contrary, the projected uplift in migration figures comes just at the right time for the New Zealand economy and provides ample economic opportunities. There are two caveats, however: New Zealand needs to attract the migrants it needs and it needs to lift its game to accommodate these migrants.

To put the Treasury’s forecasts into perspective, it is worth looking at long-term population trends. The Treasury predicts the population will increase by a quarter of a million people, from 4.46 million in 2013 to 4.72 million in 2018. That is an increase of just over a quarter million, which may sound substantial but it is important to realise two things about these numbers. 

First, more than half of the increase (57%) is natural (that is, more births than deaths) and only 43% is due to net migration. Second, by New Zealand’s historical standards, a population growth of 1.1% a year is not high. In 85 out of the 128 years where data has been collected, population growth rate was above this level.

A net migration gain doesn’t just mean more people arriving, it means fewer are leaving and among those coming are New Zealanders returning, most of whom we should be welcoming back.

The population growth forecast should be welcomed rather than feared. It comes at a time for the New Zealand economy when, figuratively speaking, we need all hands on deck. 

Yes, the population number will rise (as will the labour force) but the total number of people in employment rises even faster. This means the unemployment rate is forecast to go down to just 4.4% by 2018, even despite a slight increase in the labour market participation rate from 67.9% last year to 69.0%. 

To put it simply, there is no shortage of jobs for new migrants. They are entering a labour market, which is edging toward full employment, with labour shortages reported in parts of the country and across many industries. 

Without migration, pressure on wages and therefore inflationary pressures would increase. There can be no doubt new migrants will make a positive contribution to the development of the domestic economy. They will add to its productive capacity and also strengthen demand.

It certainly would not be in New Zealand’s interest to curb migration. Our ability to fine-tune migration figures is limited since a large part of the net migration intake consists of returning Kiwis. For example, people who once left for Australia and now return home as the Australian economy no longer looks that promising. 

These people have a right to reside in New Zealand and cannot simply be turned back at the airport. . .

On the contrary, they should be welcomed, at least some of those will be people whose leaving was lamented as contributing to the brain drain.

Politicians should face it: New Zealand is a migration destination – and it is all the better for it. Because we are such an attractive destination for potential migrants, we can afford to select those we need most. 

We can strategically define the skills we need to build our economy. But we should also ensure those who come here also subscribe to New Zealand values – that they speak our language, respect our laws and become part of the community.

I say all this as a migrant myself – and as a father of a Kiwi son who cares about this country and wants to make it better. I was once part of New Zealand’s net migration statistic. 

Maybe I pushed up house prices at the margin when I arrived. But I am doing my best to make this country a better place. Even if it means defending the positive impacts of migration against populist responses in an election year.

It’s not the quantity of immigrants that’s a concern, it’s the quality.

The author, Dr Oliver Hartwich, is right that we can afford to select immigrants we need most.

We can, and should, also ensure those who come here subscribe to our values, speak our language, respect our laws and become part of the community.

That will happen much more easily if we are welcoming and willing to help migrants adapt to their new home.

It will be made more difficult by the xenophobia which opposition MPs, to their shame, are encouraging.

Aaron Schiff (Hat tip Matt Nolan) points out we gain from immigrants:

. . . We should celebrate because on the incoming side, skilled immigrants provide New Zealand with a significant free gift. Some other country has paid the cost of their birth, childcare, childhood medical care, education, etc. They turn up in New Zealand effectively bringing all that investment with them and this benefits the country. Sounds good to me.

Sounds very good to me.

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