Would-be immigrants with higher-level English language skills
may be given higher priority after an international review of
New Zealand's migration policy.
The review by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and
Development (OECD), published in Paris overnight, also
recommends tightening visa control for low-skilled work by
young people on working holidays and overseas students
because of high local youth unemployment.
The report says New Zealand had proportionately the highest
policy-controlled inflows of both permanent and temporary
workers of all 34 OECD countries in the late 2000s.
Principal author Thomas Liebig said overall the country's
labour migration system was "functioning well". Skilled
migrants here were more likely to have jobs, and to have jobs
aligned to their qualifications, than migrants in Australia
and Canada. But he recommended giving more weight to
high-level English language skills.
"Currently there is a minimum English level required from all
principal applicants, but higher levels are not rewarded," he
"Such rewards should be introduced, as evidence from New
Zealand and from other OECD countries clearly shows that
better proficiency of the host-country language is associated
with better labour market outcomes."
The report also suggests reviving a requirement for
applicants' family members to pay a bond if they could not
pass the English test, which would be repaid once they passed
New Zealand scrapped a bond system in 1998 and instead
requires family members to pay for English tuition in
advance. But the report says a third of immigrants who pay
for tuition in advance never attend their courses. It says
the prospect of getting their bond back would give them
stronger incentives to learn English.
It warns the numbers of young foreigners on working holidays
or studying in New Zealand are reaching levels that may
worsen local youth unemployment.
Temporary workers under working-holiday schemes for people
aged 18 to 29 have leapt from below 10,000 a year in the
1990s to 50,000 and represent 8 per cent of New Zealanders in
the same age group.
On top of that there are about 100,000 overseas students --
60 per cent are in Auckland and about three-quarters with
visas allowing them to work up to 20 hours a week. The report
says overseas students with work rights represent 6 per cent
of NZ youth aged 15 to 24, and 11 per cent in Auckland. Most
overseas students work in hotels, restaurants and retailing,
which are also the biggest employers of low-skilled NZ youth.
The report recommends investigating the effects of both
working holidays and overseas students on NZ youth employment
and tightening controls on their working conditions.
Immigration Minister Michael Woodhouse said the report's
English language proposals would be considered as part of a
planned review of the skilled migrant category.
Labour immigration spokesman Trevor Mallard said Labour would
"tighten up on the quality and the level of courses where
[students] are able to work".
Migration and Investment Association chairwoman June Ranson
said the minimum English language requirement was "between a
good and competent user of the English language" and extra
points for higher-level English would not add anything
- Simon Collins of the New Zealand Herald