Immigration is one of those vexed issues about which most
people have an opinion but few know how to fix.
Unsurprisingly, the pendulum of migration policies has swung
markedly in the political breeze as different governments
have attempted to match patterns with priorities.
Those priorities have likewise changed over the years as the
equilibrium between resources and population has shifted and
the reality of a radically altered world economy has placed
insistent demands on policy-makers and politicians alike.
In today's globalised world, wherein the competition for
"human capital" and skilled labour becomes increasingly
fierce, no country, it seems, can remain an isolated
But as many governments will testify, in a world replete with
trouble spots there is also no shortage of migrants of the
displaced kind, and striking the balance between humanitarian
and economic impulses in policy settings is a fraught
New Zealand has long operated a points and categories system
for migrants according to sought-after skills,
qualifications, wealth, health, dependants and so on.
There has been and remains an annual refugee quota, investor
migrant categories and, in addition, a fluctuating population
of home-grown migrants, some off on their Overseas
Experience, others returning.
In this context, the latest measures, announced last week by
the Government, continue a directional shift set in motion
last year by Immigration Minister Jonathan Coleman.
On Thursday, he announced details of two new "retirement
visas" - temporary retirement and parent retirement.
The parent retirement category allows Immigration New Zealand
to prioritise high net worth individuals who are already
seeking to migrate to New Zealand under the Family Category.
The temporary retirement category creates a two-year permit
for people who want to spend some of their retirement in New
Zealand, provided they invest here and indemnify the
Government against possible health and welfare costs.
Parent retirement visa holders will be required to invest a
minimum of $1 million over four years; temporary retirees
will have to invest $750,000 over the two-year term of their
permit, with the possibility of renewing those permits as
long as criteria such as investment funds, income and health
insurance continue to be met.
These two policies cement in place a greater emphasis on the
For with the relaxing of rules last year, investors with $10
million can get residency in three years without any English
skills or business experience or age limit, while being
required to remain in the country for a fifth of every year.
In addition, migrants willing to invest $1.5 million now also
get residency provided they meet language and business
Since these changes, there have been 99 expressions of
interest by prospective migrant investors which, according to
Dr Coleman, shows a "healthy interest" in New Zealand as a
There is good reason to hope that the minister is correct in
New Zealand needs inward investment to broaden and underpin
economic activity and hence growth, and there is little solid
evidence to suggest he is wrong.
However, evidence of the extent to which investor-migrants
have settled and contributed in the long term in this country
during the past decade or so remains largely anecdotal, as do
the tales of those who have arrived, "invested" in large
houses, taken advantage of the state education and health
services for their families, then sold up and moved out again
- sometimes migrating "through the back door" to Australia.
Solid research is required to gauge, assess and finesse the
effectiveness of such policies.
The Government is rightly taking a hard-headed look at the
domain - New Zealand is not so wealthy as to be able to offer
refuge to thousands of migrants who bring little other than
"diversity" to their new country, but neither should it push
these policies so far that, in effect, the prize of New
Zealand citizenship is being sold to the highest bidder.
There are, after all, many values - honesty, pride,
diligence, community-mindedness, intelligence, aspiration,
entrepreneurialism among them - besides an already
accumulated wealth that will colour the future contribution
of any migrant, including those in the new parent and
temporary retirement categories, to his or her adopted
Dr Coleman and the National-led Government are evidently
determined to implement immigration policies that pay.
The ambition is laudable, but wealth is relatively easy to
measure, other desirable qualities less so.
A degree of care is required.