It's just a thought...
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Posted by Iain on Feb. 14, 2020, 4:22 p.m. in Skilled Migrant Category
In Maori this means "stay strong”. It is one of those terms that has found its way into every day usage in New Zealand. I love it. It speaks to where I come from and the work that I do. People everywhere are freaking out over the skilled migrant resident visa allocation and processing times, frightened by what the government might do.
At my seminars I like to paint a picture that migration is like climbing Mount Everest. It takes a lot of good planning, careful execution, patience and courage. Mental toughness is rewarded. Migration is emotional, logistically complicated and generally expensive (as in, employ a cheap mountain guide, or no mountain guide at all and your chances of summiting Mount Everest are significantly lower — indeed that decision to do it on the cheap may cost you your future).
Migrants are always tested but never more so than today in New Zealand where allocation and processing times continue to get longer and longer. I have written recently something has to give in terms of what is going on with the skilled migrant category. Foolishly the government cut the number of resident visas they wanted to approve last year but left the points pass mark at 160.
Demand is not diminishing, nor increasing (as incorrectly claimed by the Minister of Immigration recently), but by cutting numbers while keeping the pass mark the same, has led directly to these processing backlogs - most skilled migrants are going to be waiting 18 to 24 months for their residence to be allocated, processed and approved unless they work in an occupation for which they have NZ registration or are earning at least $104,000.
Backlogs in and of themselves don’t necessarily suppress demand. Having dealt with the Australian system for some years the significant majority of resident Visa applications take 18 to 24 months to process. The big difference between Australia and New Zealand however, is none of those people wanting to move to Australia have sold their houses, given up their jobs, given the dog away to their neighbour, found employment in Australia and are now sitting waiting and worrying over their Resident Visa outcome. They are all still sitting at home getting on with their lives. All the people affected by the backlog in New Zealand, are in New Zealand on work visas. They have burned plenty of bridges to be part of the Government’s residence programme (that curiously they still spend millions of dollars marketing).
These NZ migrants cannot make any long-term decisions. Many have children finishing school and wanting to go to university during the waiting period and the majority simply cannot afford to pay international fees for university. Many are having to put on hold decisions to buy houses. Some might be stuck in jobs that are not ideal but serve the residence purpose.
I find we have two kinds of clients. Those that simply suck it up, and get on and enjoy life in New Zealand having faith we know what we are doing and residence is a matter of when and not if. They appreciate the delays are not of our making. As possibly the best Advisers in the game they appreciate that all we can do is to ensure that we file decision ready applications which is what we do.
Then there is the second kind. These are the people that take it out on us. Thankfully they are a minority but it isn’t very pleasant being blamed for changes in the rules half way through the game - when we don’t write the rules. There's nothing we can do to make the government go faster but we along with the entire industry has made it very clear to the government that the current situation is unsustainable and ignoring the problem will not make it go away.
Ultimately however it is the Minister that sets the pass mark to get out of the skilled migrant pool and it is the government that sets the criteria to qualify as a migrant. As I have written about recently I have no doubt some plan is being hatched in Wellington to deal with the situation. My major concern is the solution might be politically expedient rather than economically sensible.
Every single skilled migrant requires a highly skilled job to get into New Zealand. Employers the world over prefer to employ locally simply because of the perceived or real hassle getting visas. That means the government has in that backlog people who have been able to break into the labour market, secure a job for the most part against the odds, and that says one thing and one thing very clearly - their skills were desperately needed in New Zealand by that particular employer because no employer I’ve ever dealt with will play the visa game if they can avoid it. That reality seems lost on the politicians - or they choose to ignore it for political gain.
Obviously the simplest solution is for the government to increase the number of resident visas they will issue and clear the backlog. Sell it as a good economic news story, for that is what it is. Too many jobs, not enough Kiwis to fill them.
I was thinking the other day that another solution could be to return to the multi passmark system we used to have. The way things used to work was that applicants were ranked not just on raw points total as they are today, but according to what we deem more important and valuable e.g. claiming points for a job in an occupation on a national or regional skills shortage list, or having a partner with a skilled job offer, or higher salary - the criteria themselves could be ranked. Then, at least, it is transparent.
Or consider prioritising processing in terms of the points score that people claim. The more points you claim the faster your case could be allocated. The obvious problem with that of course is people would start claiming points they are not entitled to. I would then adopt the Australian approach – a bit of a scorched Earth - if you claim it and you can't prove it you’d be declined. That would force people into getting it right up front and first time but the flip-side of that is it would require immigration officers to understand their own rules completely — and we know how bad they are at that. It is however worth considering. It would certainly force migrants to make sure they have the evidence of their points claim before filing an Expression of Interest in residence. That alone should cut down on applications that are always doomed to fail under the current system.
A simple across-the-board increase in the pass mark would obviously decrease demand for the available places but equally it's going to deprive the labour market, particularly in Auckland, of skills desperately needed that we do not produce ourselves as a country.
And that makes the simplest solution, the best. Recognise that the skilled migrant category rewards those that are able to break into a labour market that is, owing to the disconnect between employers wanting people to have work visas, but the government not wanting to grant work visas without jobs, seldom easy. The annual target of resident visas allowed to be issued should simply be increased — at least while the Government comes up with a better idea that does not hurt the economy. The government backtracked on infrastructure spending recently, perhaps they should backtrack on cutting skilled migrant numbers as well - and take the heat they will rightly get for making silly, politically motivated decisions in the first place.
If they were to do that and the economy keeps growing, then of course it creates more jobs. So arguably the problem never goes away. It’s a valid point (unless and until we can create the skills we need locally). The government should recognise that with that would come an increased demand on infrastructure, schools, roads, housing and everything else that would come with a growing population.
Well, here’s a thought — how about a population policy?
What this situation shows is it is a complex issue and you can't solve the problem unless you have an idea about how many people we want to share this land with and that demands a population policy which New Zealand has never had.
And no New Zealand government wants to have a discussion about what our ideal population might be.
So we find ourselves in a situation where the government sits on its hands when it comes to this critical issue and I continue to fear they will do something really really dumb.
Some positive news to end, however. Visitor Visas now seem to be being issued once again and we have had at least one issued this week for a South African client that was filed in mid-January.
That's a real relief for us and our clients looking to come over and find jobs.
Remember, migration is stressful and our jobs at IMMagine exist because the process is legally complex, logistically challenging and emotionally very tough. Don't start the process if you're not up for it because there's no point getting halfway up that mountain and turning around and going back down again. And migration is as much political for any country as it is economic so you will always be at the whim of self-serving politicians (or well-meaning but simply stupid ones) until that precious resident Visa is in your passport.
For migrants to be one of Darwin’s ‘winners’ it takes the creation of a good strategy (usually incorporating a Plan B), a steady nerve and listening to the advice that you are paying for. In our case it's normally spot on and we continue to enjoy watching over 98% of our clients come to New Zealand and find skilled jobs and go on to secure their residency.
Even if now, it is going to be a two year process.
Until next week
Posted by Iain on June 19, 2015, 9:10 p.m. in Immigration
With my latest tour to South Africa nearing an end I wonder if this country is ready to implode.
Just when it seems the Government cannot make themselves look any worse, they load that shotgun and aim it at whichever part of their foot they didn’t blow off last week. I cannot help wondering if there isn’t now a creeping arrogance given they have no effective opposition and their hold on power absolute.
Before anyone jumps down my throat let me say that there is still much about South Africa I admire and by and large it is still a country that is well worth a visit.
If you step back and try and view it objectively here are some ‘highlights’ of the past three weeks.
Before discussing these however may I offer some context that in the past three weeks where I come from I suspect nothing has happened that would make page 17 of the national papers in South Africa (unless it involved rugby perhaps). On the political front in NZ the biggest news is a Government Minister has offered to resign because his brother has been charged with sexual assault. His brother!…..I agree that might be over kill but a few politicians around this country might take a leaf out of that book.
In my first week the President of this country dripped sarcasm in Parliament 24 hours before he knew his Minister of Police, having conducted an ‘investigation’, was to announce that he did not have to pay back any of the NZ$22 million the taxpayer paid to upgrade his ‘house’ because among other things the swimming pool was in fact a ‘fire pool’ to be used to store water in in case of a fire. I cannot recall how he justified the chicken coop or cattle kraal as aids to boost the security of the property but it will have been in there somewhere.
Oh and then there was the small matter of the multi million rand security fence with gaping holes that the cattle from the kraal probably use to enter and leave the high security facility. Gaping holes and not the best security one might conclude but no one cared about until it was shown on national TV.
In week two the country gets dragged into the FIFA scandal and the Government denies that they paid any ‘bribe’ to anyone to secure the hosting rights to the 2010 World Cup. They paid US$10m allegedly to help fund the ‘African Diaspora’ in the Caribbean. All parties have said that with a straight face. So far scant evidence of these exiled Africans enjoying much football development. While it seems pretty clear that if anyone anywhere wants to host a World Cup, Governments offer all sorts of incentives and inducements so it escapes me why the South African Government doesn’t just shut up……..somehow these guys just keep on digging.
Last but by no means least the Government snubs its nose as its own Constitution when it fails to arrest the President of Sudan earlier this week who was in town to attend the African Union Summit. That really was a ‘wow’ moment for me. This guy is wanted for among other things genocide. Papers are filed in Court and lawyers reminding the Government they have no choice other than to arrest him but instead the Government offers a full police escort as this suspected criminal scuttles for his private plane at the airport and flees the country. All in the name of African brotherhood and solidarity they say. Oh really? This guy is accused of mass murder of some of those same African brothers! The Government says that they might pull out of the Rome agreement that they signed up to as there is a bias in the ICCs charges (as in they only seem to file charges against leaders who insight or induce mass murder and like it or not there is a whole lot of them in Africa). And yes the US and Israel have not signed up because there are a couple in their past or present leadership that might end up on ICC charges as well. But South Africa signed up. They wanted in. Till they needed out.
The scariest thing is they were willing to ignore their own laws to do it and that is a frightening insight into how they view the law, the Courts and their obligations not only to the world but their own people.
This country is slowly but surely sliding into one party (benign?) dictatorship where the Government genuinely seems to believe they are above the law.
The currency has continued to fall through the floor. Our potential clients are increasingly currency prisoners with emigration a pipe dream given the costs. The nation has an official unemployment rate of 25%.
South Africa has many problems it did not create, like a porous border through which several hundred thousand people have entered illegally in recent years (over 100,000 refugees pouring into Cape Town every year), a culture of non-payment for services left over from the fight against the apartheid regime, a resultant crumbling in infrastructure, constant power cuts that are increasingly driving businesses to the wall and a birth rate that like in many third world countries sees the per capita tax take not keeping up with expanding demand.
Is it just me or does this all read a bit like the recent history of Zimbabwe?
It doesn’t help confidence when the majority continue to vote in politicians from Municipality up who are often incompetent, cannot do their jobs and seem to think that positions of power are an open invitation to plunder the public coffers. They ruin it for the hard working and honest politicians of which I am sure, or at least am desperate to believe, there are many.
It is all so sad to watch as I have been for 25 years of regular visits. It is a slow train crash that has been unfolding for years.
Luckily and if there is any hope left for this place, the one credible opposition party has recently elected a charismatic, articulate and highly intelligent young black man to lead them. It is possibly the only way the black majority might turn their backs on the ANC and stop the rot because most it seems will not vote for someone of non-African ethnicity. Most seem wedded to the ANC because they lead them to freedom but what sort of freedom do most have with ‘leadership’ like this?
Until next week
Iain MacLeod - Southern Man
Posted by Iain on June 12, 2015, 2:27 p.m. in Government
Something very interesting is happening in New Zealand. A quiet social service delivery revolution, that is being carefully watched around the world.
If you asked most Kiwis however I doubt they’d even know it is happening. Such is the Government’s caution they might get offside with the voters if it isn’t handled very tactfully. So far they have done a masterful job of flying this well under the radar.
We have Government that accepts that if you want something done really well, don’t give it to a public servant - I’d suggest health and education being the two exceptions to a greater or lesser extent. Given the tax dollars spent every day runs into the tens of millions on delivering services to the populace, this Government is serious about getting more out of each and every dollar for the same dollar spend.
And when a model appears broken or ineffective, to try something new. Such is the way of New Zealanders – a hotbed of social engineering and a willingness (usually) to try new ways of doing things.
What has been developed is a new social service delivery model which, on the surface, is like something out of the Hollywood blockbuster ‘Minority Report’. If you never saw it, the basic premise was that Tom Cruise’s character was tasked with preventing serious crimes before they happen - through profiling and intervention.
While Hollywood turned it into a big brother spectacular what New Zealand is doing is being quietly heralded across the developed world.
A number of years ago through bringing together large quantities of socio-economic data, a model was developed to predict future behavior and social outcomes. When it was applied retrospectively to see what might have happened to children born say, seven years ago, there was by all accounts a stunning accuracy of expected future rates of contact with state and non-state agencies.
When applied, it was able to predict with 70% accuracy which children born seven years ago would by that age have had some contact with state agencies - be it Children, Young Persons and Family Service, the Police or similar.
The argument goes that if at birth you can identify those children who are at serious risk through socio economic circumstances who over their lifetimes cost the taxpayer $1 million (‘million dollar babies’ as the Deputy Prime Minister calls them) through ending up in prison for example, the State or other agencies can get be more focused in their efforts and target the most vulnerable of our babies and young people through assisting their parents.
When you think about it, it is a noble ambition and not just for the dollars it might save but for the personal and public good it offers.
Who wants to give birth to a child that has a 70% chance of ending up in prison?
Of course it also raises some uncomfortable questions about the ethics of it. Not all the children who fall into this high risk profile end up as offenders or delinquents.
How would parents react if they were approached when they have just given birth by a well-meaning social services official (or perhaps more palatably someone from an NGO like Plunket or Salvation Army) extending a hand and gently taking this family under their wing? Would they react positively or would they feel ‘big brother’ is interfering? Would they feel stigmatised?
You have to admit…it is an interesting one.
I believe most parents know and want what is best and would likely not view the approach as stigmatising. However I can imagine that some would. I suspect those that most need the assistance (teenage or young single mothers for example) might accept the offer if the approach was done in a sensitive and non-judgemental way.
What though of the 30% of these children that will turn out okay regardless?
How should the State react if their approach is re-buffed?
Should intervention be compulsory?
Should the State demand they participate in more frequent visits from helpers? From budgeting agencies? From the Police?
It is for this reason the Government is not rushing to roll this model out and are doing it on the quiet given the obvious sensitivities involved in it. They are clearly aware that if it is not done with great respect and compassion and based on nothing more than trying to effect positive change rather than saving money it could all go horribly pear shaped.
I have to say good on them though. For seventy years we have had a social welfare system that initially served us well yet has a horrible tendency to trap people in a cycle of poverty (our version not the live on $2 a day version).
The current system clearly does not work as well as it could, it sucks up tens of millions a dollars each and every day and the models would suggest it is often failing the most vulnerable.
An ongoing highly comprehensive University of Otago Longitudinal study that began following the lives of several hundred New Zealand babies in 1977 re-wrote the old adage ‘show me the child at seven and I will show you the adult’ to ‘show me the child at three and I will show you the adult’.
Those first three years are crucial to what happens for the next 77.
Too many young people are being failed by the current system.
I take my hat off to the current crop of senior politicians who are not willing to sit idly by and tinker with a system that with the best intentions in the world does not stop New Zealand having one of the highest per capita incarceration rates and where child abuse is part of a small but significant percentage of everyday lives for some of our most vulnerable.
The question is will New Zealanders accept ‘big data’ being put to such use that is potentially a force for powerful good?
Should a Government official be entrusted with it?
When we have the likes of Edward Snowden banging on about Big Brother intruding into our everyday lives is this a chance for something positive to come from collection of data? After all New Zealand seems to measure and survey everything that lives and breathes (and then some).
We have the information. We now have a model - a highly accurate predictive model that can change futures for the better.
Shouldn’t we use it?
I for one give a cautious ‘thumbs up’ so long as it isn’t bureaucrats calling the shots. Our newest precious kiwis deserve every chance they can have in this country of ours.
Until next week
Iain MacLeod - Southern Man
Posted by Iain on Nov. 14, 2014, 4:04 p.m. in New Zealand Lifestyle
New Zealand has once again been ranked in the top three most prosperous countries in the world for 2014.
Topping the annual list this year is Norway followed by Switzerland in second place.
For what it is worth Australia came in seventh so a tidy little double for the Immagine Immigration countries of destination……
The least prosperous country this year was the Central African Republic. The United States came in 10th.
The 2014 Legatum Prosperity Index ranks 140 countries on their health and well being and so assesses factors including education, safety and security, health, economy, entrepreneurship, governance, personal freedom and social capital.
New Zealand ranked first for personal freedom, second for social capital and governance, seventh for education, tenth for safety and security, 15th for economy, 18th for entrepreneurship and 20th for health.
Not a bad effort when you are ranking 140 countries.
Translating this into the sort of lives we lead here I can explain it as reflecting our being a capitalist, socialist democracy which in other words means you have to play your part in paying your way pay but if you cannot, as my neighbour we will not leave you behind.
That philosophy runs very deep in the DNA of virtually every New Zealander and probably explains why Australia ranks in the top ten as well given their similar (if not louder) worldview and the Scandinavian countries also rank so high.
In new Zealand this mix of free market capitalism with a dose of redistribution of wealth all happens within bounds that the vast majority of New Zealanders are comfortable with.
There is a constant tension (relaxed and good natured if it needs to be said) between the philosophies of those that want untrammelled free markets and no regulation and those that want more centralised planning and Government involvement in our lives.
When it comes to heath, education and pensions for example we are all firmly in the camp of socialising risk i.e. spreading across all taxpayers, the cost of caring and educating all.
It does solve all problems however.
If you look at youth unemployment statistics in New Zealand they can be very high and 18-24 years olds runs as high as 20% in some parts of New Zealand.
Yet only this week the Tourism sector was bemoaning the fact that they cannot get enough young people into changing beds in hotels, bar work, café waiting and the like – there is a labour shortage. They were calling on the government to allow greater numbers of under 31 year olds here on open holiday working visas (meaning they can do whatever they wish without their employers having to prove they cannot find a local to fill the vacancy). Government responded that there are currently 62,000 young people from all over the world filling these sorts of jobs when the annual target was for only 50,000 to be here.
What this demonstrates is that the alternatives to what is often lower paid work in New Zealand are simply too attractive to many young New Zealanders.
It is hard to fathom how in a country which has strong economic growth, 1600 people a week coming off welfare, over 100,000 jobs created in the past 3 years, strong growth in tourist numbers that there is not a bit more ‘stick’ with regards unemployed young people. At this point in time for example the state agencies that are tasked with assisting young people into work do not say – well you can either go to, say Queenstown or Auckland and find work or you can lose your unemployment payments. They are generally allowed to stay living where they are with no incentive built in to getting off their chuffs and working. We do have cars, trains, buses and planes here I often reflect…
In what was an extraordinary first when the NZ government recently offered up to 1000 long term unemployed a one off payment of NZ$3000 (about US$2500) to go to Christchurch where unemployment hovers around 3% and find a job they filled the places. But seriously? We have to pay people who are being paid to do nothing to get off their backsides move to a city to find work?
It is just as well we are a prosperous first world economy and a nation of very tolerant tax payers. If we weren’t things here could get quite ugly quite quickly for a lot of people, particularly the young, who may well have squandered one of the worlds best education systems but who have a mentality of the world owing them a living.
Overall we get the balance pretty much right as is reflected in this survey and once again reinforces the view of many migrants and locals alike that this really is a very special little country. Possibly the best kept secret in the world.
Speaking of which the final seminars for the year in South Africa are underway and I will be travelling to Hong Kong and Singapore in about ten days. If you know anyone that might wish to attend they can click here for details.
Until next week
Iain MacLeod - Southern Man
Posted by Paul on Oct. 24, 2014, 4:01 p.m. in Retirement
We all grow old. It is an inevitable consequence of living. Can't escape it, can't change it. You may, if you happen to be incredibly wealthy and with no medical aversion to plastic, be able to postpone it, but no matter what tactics you employ to stave off father time, we all get there in the end.
For some (including myself), the thought of the 'twilight years' brings with it visions of plush leather recliners, comfy slippers and hot cups of tea in the newly built conservatory attached to a free-hold home in the suburbs. This would all be nicely topped off with being able to throw off the shackles of employment (or self-employment) and live a life of freedom away from the daily grind.
For others, the thought of growing old brings a sense of dread. Where will the money come from, will there be support, will I have house, where will I live and of course the overwhelming sense that this burden will have to be carried by the children.
In many countries, caring for the eldery is both culturally and economically the responsibility of the children, which translates, interestingly enough, in to differences in attitudes between how New Zealanders see their responsibility towards parents as compared to people form South Africa, or many parts of Asia.
I'll give you an example of how this works. I regularly catch a ferry home in the evenings and amongst my fellow travellers are Kiwis, Brits and South Africans. There was a group of us yesterday who got on to the topic of migration (it follows me around) and that then led to whether or not each person in the group had considered bringing their parents to New Zealand. The two Brits, who were both ten years plus in New Zealand, were quite adamant:"We love having them here for holidays but anything longer than a few weeks...no thanks" (said in the nicest possible way).
Myself, I wasn't really able to comment as my mother lives in New Zealand (where else would she be?!).
The South African however, who had only been a Resident for a few years was quizzing me right away on the Parent Category, because they had already made up their minds that mum and dad were NZ bound. Given the prospects for the elderly in South Africa, that is a pretty common and understandeable reaction.
I suspect that most New Zealanders have quite a different outlook on caring for their parents than people in a great many countries around the world do; mainly because we have far less to worry about. New Zealand as a country has always had a tradition of looking after its older generation, administered at the State level. Whether that is economically sensible with an ageing population has yet to be fully seen, but for now it works.
But how does it actually work?
Well we start off with all the usual benefits that are afforded to Residents and Citizens, including first class healthcare, which, lets face it when you are heading into senior years is probably one of the most important 'perks' you will have. You will inevitably need it more and so knowing you don't have to pay for any of it (ever) is quite a nice bonus.
Then on top of this, the state gives everyone over 65 that meets the criteria (see below), a liveable income in the form of superannuation; this is paid even if you continue to work past 65. Granted it is not going to send you on luxury cruises every month but it will keep you supported for the essentials. It was always intended to 'top up' the elderly who by that stage, one would hope, have accumulated their own assets, paid off a mortgage and have some savings.
There are varying rates of assistance, dependent on your circumstances but in basic terms if you are married or in a defacto relationship and you both qualify under the critieria listed below, then each person would receive a fortnightly, after tax amount of $564.52, which over a year would be equal to a combined income of NZD$29,355.04. That would get you to a few bowls matches.
If you are single, then you receive slightly more, taking you to a yearly after tax income of NZD$19,080.88.
Of course there are some rules to qualify for this, which include the following:
You can get more information on all of the above, by clicking here>>
Of course there are also other minor perks such as concessions on local transport and cheap entry to Museums, galleries and certain tourist attractions, but the key staples, such as healthcare and an income are given to you by the Government. Add this to a country with one of the lowest crime rates on earth (and falling), then it is easy to see why New Zealand is an attractive destination for not only the younger generation of migrants but their elders as well.
There are of course immigration categories that cater for this, which although were changed a couple of years back in an attempt to reduce parent numbers have actually made it slightly quicker for those parents who come from English speaking backgrounds. This is particularly useful for South Africans, where parents are the next item on the 'to do' list once the kids have migrated.
From my own perspective, I have a mother approaching 80 years of age (in fact 80 next week), she lives in her own home in Hamilton, she receives her superannuation and fortunately for her, she also receives a pension from Holland (having not lived their for over 55 years - another country that looks after its elderly). She travels every two years, does plenty of shopping for her 11 grandchildren and lives an independent, worry free life. I should probably visit her more than I do, but I have no fears that she doesnt have all she needs to live out her twilight years, with comfy slippers, leather recliner and sunny conservatory. Thanks NZ, I appreciate the help.
If you are thinking about making the move or have made it already but want to know what might be available for your parents, by way of a safe and secure retirement, then perhaps you should get in touch. Speaking of which I will be in South Africa, in mid November for two weeks (the last trip of the year, before we all take a break) and the Southern Man will be in Hong Kong and Singapore later in November for our last SE Asia tour.
If you want to attend, drop by the website and register - comfy slippers optional.
Until next week (after the long weekend here)
Paul Janssen, standing in for the Southern Man.
Posted by Iain on Aug. 1, 2014, 8:28 a.m. in New Zealand Lifestyle
It is high time New Zealand had a population policy.
As touched on last week immigration policy seems to reflect political cycles – short term thinking and no long term plan. Say what you like about China and Singapore but at least they have long term plans even if you don’t agree with them. They do have population policies and yes Singapore’s is daft given the size of the place but all credit to them for trying to address low population growth and a rapidly ageing population.
In New Zealand our thinking on population is limited to immigration policy and filling immediate skills gaps in the labour market which is a partial solution but the bigger story is surely what sort of future do we want? What sort of country do we want to live in? How many people do we want to share this beautiful land with?
Why do we not have a population policy?
Let’s not kid ourselves – even in tolerant, welcoming New Zealand there still lies in many hearts a fear of being ‘overun’ by this bunch or that if we increase migration levels.
The stark reality is New Zealanders are getting older and relatively quickly. Like all developed (and many developing) nations our low birth rate has created this rapidly ageing population. The overall population is growing through migration and natural increase. Net migration this year is running at a ten year high yet still only represents an overall gain of 0.7% of the population. Around 38,000 more people have moved here in the past 12 months than left. An important sidebar is this has NOT been caused by more foreigners being allowed in through the permanent residence programme but through fewer New Zealanders leaving, more New Zealanders returning from Australia and elsewhere and more Australians (they can just walk in….) moving to New Zealand. This can just as easily turn into a net migration loss as this number is dictated not by population policy but by the fickle winds of local, Australian (common labour market border) and global economic conditions.
One thing is certain - New Zealand will look quite different in 50 years than it does today. What we have is no national plan to control how.
It is quite incredible to me that we have no population policy in New Zealand. We seem to have a policy on everything else.
After my recent trip to France and Spain and my regular trips to South East Asia I realise that one thing we have no shortage of in New Zealand is space. And no shortage of highly skilled, financially secure and motivated migrants who would like to share it with us.
I suggest a New Zealand where we double the population to perhaps 10 million people over a twenty year period.
Imagine the challenge. Imagine the planning – infrastructure, schools, hospitals, houses, public transport, roads and so on. Imagine the immigration policy we would have to have – the skills mix would be radically different to what we have now and would change over time. Imagine the communities and economic opportunities we would create for locals and new arrivals.
Where would the people come from? I fear this would spark the biggest debate.
I touched on the rapidly changing face of Auckland last week and there is little doubt that Auckland leads on social and racial tolerance and integration of migrants. Not that the other major cities are too far behind but they have some way to go to become as international, outward looking and welcoming as my home town if my clients are to be believed. In two generations Auckland has gone from being mono-cultural with few migrants to a city where today over 600,000 of our 1.5 million were not born in New Zealand and we are far culturally and economically richer for it in my view.
Locals are not being displaced from jobs despite what some might try and argue. I am not eating dog with chopsticks. I am not learning to speak Russian. I do however work in a city where when I step outside my office I hear a multitude of languages around me and can eat at different restaurant every night serving food from virtually every corner of the planet. My children have grown up with a circle of friends whose parents come from many different countries but who all think Richie McCaw is a living God, there is no sport but rugby, cricket is king in summer, who speak English like they do and who are connected to the world through social media.
New Zealand is many things but one thing it is not is crowded. We have a country that is the size of Great Britain (which has 63 million people), Italy (60 million) and Japan (128 million – gulp…) yet we have only 4.5 million people.
That surely has its advantages that I would be the first to want to protect.
Our air is clear, the streets are clean, our beaches, once out of the city, tend to be lonely private places where you and the family have plenty of room to spread out and kick a football, where the fish are plentiful, the sea free of rubbish and pollution and within our cities we have, and could retain or even grow, plenty of open spaces - city parks, playgrounds for our children, skate parks and the like. Within thirty minutes drive of most cities we are blessed with islands, regional and national parks with pristine beaches, mountain ranges, rivers, forests and virtual deserts and of course farmlands. In the middle of Paris I saw few children outside playing and those I did I wondered how often their feet ever actually touched grass. It is the same in places like Singapore, Jakarta, London and Hong Kong and mega city after mega city. I pity them.
We could so easily fit in, if we thought it through, another 500,000 people a year for twenty years if we planned for it and built the infrastructure.
Our cities need not grow out and take up valuable farmland.
I loved Paris for its seven stories policy on so much of their central city buildings. How inspired of the town planners of three centuries ago to lay out a city where no building could be higher than seven stories and contain a mix of residential and commercial activities (pity they couldn’t inculcate a feeling of responsibility to clean up after one’s dog has poohed on the footpath). It means communities support local business and local businesses serve these residential communities. One feels part of a community, not trapped or isolated in dark urban canyons as in so many large cities. It is embracing and welcoming.
Likewise Barcelona (what a city) with its five stories building policy, its wide boulevards, tree lined streets, mad but cheap taxis and excellent public transport. And their population is virtually the same as Auckland’s – which sprawls endlessly and is generally poorly served by public transport (lack of population density to make it worthwhile). Spain might be broke but you cannot knock the vision of their town planners of two hundred years ago. If I could offer the Spaniards a wee bit of advice - get up a bit earlier and work a bit harder (the Spanish seem to have an even more laid back attitude to life than New Zealanders…) in order to keep paying for it all.
In Auckland we are still bickering about whether to keep our (already huge in area) city growing out or up.
I go home more convinced than ever that medium density along the height lines of Paris and Barcelona are the perfect urban design. Not too tall but tall enough to increase density without really compromising communities. Auckland’s plan to grow these medium density apartment blocks along main transport routes is a no brainer. It will enhance the city, not detract from it. It is interesting this is the approach being taken by those rebuilding downtown Christchurch.
All we need now is more people.
Ten thousand a week is a big number but if you could encourage these to be spread across Auckland, Hamilton, Tauranga, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin you’d be talking about, in rough terms 2000 people a week in each city and that suggests, if we selected migrants as we do now who tend to only have 2 children, about 500 families a week into each of these cities (and that is assuming they’d all want to live in one of those cities which many of course wouldn’t). I am not quite sure how you’d be able to force people to settle in particular cities – housing and tax incentives to businesses and home owners to settle outside of Auckland?
Break down the numbers and suddenly it is far easier to imagine doing.
I’d suggest that we decide how many people we want and work back from there. It would be the greatest undertaking in the history of New Zealand. It would be a chance to create within our major cities what the great European cities created two hundred years ago. A country that would eliminate once and for all the tyranny of being so far away from so many major export markets. A bigger and stronger domestic market would be created in a generation. Think of the opportunities without needing to compromise the lifestyle.
I don’t believe we would need significantly more land to be taken up to do it – the cities just need to be built a bit higher. Not high rise. Not ghettos in the sky. Modern. Mixed use. Medium density.
Already my suburban Mount Eden Street is being flagged for this sort of building density in the Unitary Plan. What I understand but disappoints me is how so many in the neighbourhood are against it. It will destroy the social fabric they cry (even though they probably don’t know more than two of their neighbours). You can’t tear down those beautiful old Victorian villas (they don’t seem to mind cross leasing their back yards and plonking some architecturally bereft modern three bedroom house on the back lawn – so much for quarter acre paradise and preserving a way of life…). I cannot wait. I’ll be the first to want to develop our property into a four storied apartment complex.
I confess it has taken me many years to reach this conclusion about what sort of New Zealand I want and strangely it is not because of the day job. For those who think you cannot have medium density housing but feel like you are still part of a community go and visit Barcelona. Cafes, bars, dry cleaning businesses, florists, schools and kindergartens all sit comfortably alongside one another. If anything it creates community.
We can preserve our parks and playgrounds – these can all be planned for. In fact we can learn from the mistakes of the European cities I have seen and expand on our open, public spaces.
We are not short of land. We are perhaps short on energy, enthusiasm, vision and political will. We are short of a population plan. Nothing can happen in a vacuum and we need politicians who recognise the importance of a long term plan in a country where the population is greying but we have so much to offer so many and the chance to build a truly international and integrated society.
Until next week
Iain MacLeod - Southern Man
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