Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern: Govt won’t be turning off migration tap in immigration ‘rebalance’

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is promising her Government will not be “turning off the tap” to migrant workers but says a rebalancing of New Zealand’s long-term net migration settings “is required”.

She is also fending off criticism from industry players that her Government’s policy on immigration is too confusing.

“What we are saying is we have had big growth and we need to look at whether or not that is serving both migrants well, but also New Zealand well,” she told media this morning.

This comes after Economic Development Stuart Nash – who was filling in for an unwell Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi – delivered a speech on New Zealand’s immigration “reset”.

Covid-19 had seen immigration grind to a halt.

In normal times, more than seven million people entered New Zealand each year but in the 12 months from March last year to March this year, just 165,000 people came in.

The country had a net migration gain of 6600 people compared with 91,900 people in the previous year.

This pause gave a “once-in-a-generation” chance for a reset, Nash told those in attendance last night.

But details in the speech were scarce and there was, for example, no new net migration target.

Because of this, critics – such as Infometrics senior economist Brad Olsen – have labelled the speech confusing.

“I came away from this speech just feeling simply confused, unsure of exactly what this speech was about, [but] more importantly from an economic and business perspective, unsure how this will change decision making.”

Simon Wallace from the New Zealand Aged Care Association was also scratching his head.

“We have a dependence on overseas workers, particularly from the Philippines and India, and it is really important that we have that pipeline continued,” he said.

This morning, Ardern moved to ease some of these concerns telling reporters the speech was an “acknowledgement that things have changed dramatically over the last 10 years”.

She said the Government had no plans to put a cap on net migration.

“There is no suggestion that there will be turning off the tap entirely to temporary workers.”

On the criticism that the speech was confusing, Ardern said: “I think there would have been – and rightfully so – criticism had we had come out with a definitive final position on immigration without having engaged with those sectors who have been most reliant on it.”

She said it was Labour’s position that “a rebalance is required”.

“We will not be turning off the tap of access to temporary migrant workers to New Zealand – that is not our intention.

“However, our view is a rebalance is required, given the last 10 years we have seen significant growth.”

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