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The New Zealand government’s immigration decisions amount to a “white immigration policy”, creating a two-tier system that will entrench inequities, claims the Green Party.

National and ACT are also critical of the moves announced by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and top ministers at a Business NZ lunch in Auckland today.

The new policy sees New Zealand’s border fully reopening at the end of July, with sector-specific agreements to support a shift away from lower-skilled migrant labour.

Green Party immigration spokesperson Ricardo Menéndez March said it would entrench a two-tier system.

“The workers that we called essential throughout the pandemic, many will be missing out on genuine pathways to residency and we are narrowing down pathways to residency for those that we consider high-salary migrants. This will entrench inequities,” he said.

“There are really clear wage gaps along ethnic lines — we’re effectively encouraging specific countries to come and become residents whereas people from the Global South who will be coming here, working in low wage industries, with no certain path to residency.”

He was also concerned about the prospect of international students losing working rights after their studies, and the roughly 16,000 overstayers in New Zealand.

‘Feels like a white-immigration policy’
“When we contextualise that many of the students and workers on low wages are from India and the Philippines, it kinda feels like we are creating a white-immigration policy – whether intentionally or otherwise.

“We’re also missing stuff around an amnesty for overstayers as well as addressing issues around migrant exploitation … we’ve been told by the Productivity Commission and many groups that migrant workers need to have their wages decoupled from single employers.

“These are people who have been living here for quite some time, many who are doing really important work but unfortunately are being exploited. If we’re really serious about enhancing workers’ rights, an amnesty should have been part of the rebalance.”

The new immigration settings streamline the residency pathway for migrants either in “Green List” occupations or paid twice the median wage.

National’s immigration spokesperson Erica Stanford said the broad brush approach was lazy.

“They could be far more nuanced and actually have fair wage rates per industry, per region, but instead they’re taking the easy route and a broad brush approach.

“I think it’s based on an unfair assumption that migrant workers drive down wages which, by the way the Productivity Commission said actually doesn’t happen.”

Families ‘separated for too long’
ACT Party leader David Seymour said the border should be open right now and families have been separated for far too long.

“It’s not opening the border in July, it’s opening up applications in July,” he said.

“Immigration New Zealand says that it will be five months on average to process a visa. The reality is if you’re one of 14 percent of New Zealanders born in a non-visa waiver country then your non-resident family can’t visit this year.”

Businesses are relieved the border will fully open and many will attempt to attract migrant workers here.

Business New Zealand’s director of advocacy Catherine Beard said skills shortages were across the board.

“One of the top headaches that we hear everywhere from every sector is a shortage of talent so we really need to throw the welcome mat open to immigrants. We’re competing with other countries for this talent and it’s really hurting.”

NZ Wine Growers chief executive Phil Gregan said re-opening the border to holidaymakers and tourists was important.

“First, it’s a positive signal that we’re open for business. I think it’s also going to have very positive impacts on tourism, on hospitality and our business on wine reseller doors hopefully.”

The wine sector is reliant on seasonal workers.

This article is republished under a community partnership agreement with RNZ.

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