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Reading between the lines

Posted by Iain on Sept. 11, 2020, 11:51 a.m. in Immigration New Zealand

Last Friday something very strange happened. 

At the same time as the Government released a press statement about an immigration matter, two lobby groups, unrelated to one another, released press statements applauding the Government for announcing an expansion of the occupations that would be granted border exemptions.

Except that’s not what the Government announced.

It had announced that those with Visitor Visas expiring shortly would automatically be granted five month extensions without fee or application form. The Government claimed no knowledge of any such plans on easing border restrictions for a wider group of occupations other than those ‘critical for the Covid-19 response’ however.

The press releases from Federated Farmers and a school Principals Association were hastily retracted. Embarrassment all round one expects but I’d have liked to have been a fly on the wall in the offices of those two lobby groups because they were clearly expecting an announcement that aligned with their press statements.

What was insightful was these unrelated entities, both lobbying hard for a more sensible approach to allowing managed entry to those whose skills New Zealand desperately needs, particularly Farm Managers and Teachers, were expecting their lobbying prayers to be answered. I suspect the Government denying knowledge of these groups understanding is simply spin, if not a downright lie, when someone higher up the political food chain put a stop to it.  I have little doubt these groups, which have strong Government connections and access, had been told the Government was going to announce something quite different to what they actually did.

With community transmission in Auckland ongoing but seemingly well under control, any news the Government might be thinking of increasing levels of migration, however minor, a few weeks out from this ‘Covid election’ was possibly considered electorally ‘unhelpful’. So it wasn’t announced. I’d wager at the very last minute.

In the meantime, few border exemptions continue to be approved and despite rising unemployment, skills shortages continue to hamper the economic recovery with many sectors outside of farming and education crying out. Letting in those people with specialist or technical skills must surely be considered important by Government. Economic confidence is fragile across New Zealand as it is across many countries right now. While we haven’t (yet) been hit as hard by the coronavirus as many economies we have been hit hard. Denying scarce skills to employers is simply going to further undermine confidence. The pressure has been growing for weeks for the Government to get its border act and exemption policies sorted - we cannot remain closed to the world forever,

I have never understood why Governments fear putting forward the argument that there’s a distinction between allowing entry to those with specialist or technical skills we don’t have enough of and protecting local jobs. These objectives are not in conflict. Right now we certainly don’t need more retail managers but we do need more school teachers. We don’t need more marketing assistants but we do need Farm Managers. We don’t need more middle level managers but we do need, Plumbers, Veterinarians and Engineers.

And New Zealanders should be able to be reunited with their partners stuck offshore when the border abruptly closed back in March to all but a few.

Immigration and more latterly border policy needs to get smart. It isn’t rocket science to establish what the areas of critical skill shortages are but it has always been done piecemeal. The Long Term Skills Shortage List isn’t fit for purpose and never has been an accurate reflection of the extensive skills shortages that have existed here for decades. The public service seems ill equipped or unable to provide the data on what we really are short of (despite issuing tens of thousands of work visas every year that are labour market tested). Coupled with that I suspect is little interest at a political level. Lord only knows why given we keep hearing about a ‘whole of Government’ approach to the crisis brought about by this virus. Skills and labour shortages should play a greater role in border decision making in my view.

Highly skilled migrants only get work visas once the immigration department is satisfied no local should be able to fill the vacancy or be trained to fill it. If the politicians believe the public servants are good at implementing this policy, what is their electoral fear? Is admitting we can’t always precisely predict what our future skills needs might be and tweaking local education and training to ensure we produce enough of our own an admission of failure? I would hope not. The world changes quickly and so too labour markets and skills needs.

Having been waiting for many weeks for the Government to announce an expanded list of occupations that will be eligible for border exemptions reflecting the reality that we still have shortages - like 1500 teacher and 1000 Farm Manager vacancies - it seems last Fridays mis-step was indeed a portend of things to come. Late this week this week an extremely limited number of exemptions for longer term work visa holders who have filed resident visa applications who are stuck offshore will be allowed entry. The criteria to get one of these is so strict I doubt they’ll approve the 850 people they think might be eligible.

In addition partners and dependent children of New Zealanders stuck on the wrong side of the border along with those people granted resident visas but who haven’t been able to activate them will from early October be able to obtain exemptions to enter the country. Twelve month ‘extensions’ are being granted to those with certain visas stuck offshore owing to the pandemic.

Further easing on what defines ‘other critical workers’ who may be eligible for a border exemption have also been announced today.

Sometimes in this game it is about understanding subtle signalling. Reading between the lines proved accurate and last week’s non announcement suggested some announcement on the larger issues highlighted here was never going to be far away. Now we have had the release it is clearly a case of better let than never and it will be relief in particular to the many Kiwis who have not seen partners or children for many months and for a few exasperated employers increasing access to scarce skills.

Things are definitely starting to move in the right direction after months of uncertainty and chaos.

Until next week


Iain MacLeod

Southern Man

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You have to love Australia...and white farmers?

Posted by Iain on March 16, 2018, 10:22 p.m. in South Africa

You have to love Australia! It is not very often I agree with Julius Malema and his Economic Freedom Fighters but strangely this week, I find myself doing so but for very different reasons.

It is interesting and completely understandable that the South African Government has reacted with affront at the Australian Minister of Immigration’s suggestion that they must look very carefully into trying to help and "fast track visas" for “white South African farmers who are being persecuted”. To suggest that these people need help “from a civilised country like ours” actually made my skin crawl. Not because South African farmers are not being targeted by their Government and criminals, but because virtually everyone in South Africa that is not black is being marginalised for reasons of ‘economic transformation’, and not a small dose of political retribution.

Australian hypocrisy seems to know no bounds. And nor their racist tendencies.

This all comes about as Australia responds to the recent passing of legislation in South Africa allowing expropriation of land without compensation. There’s no doubt that South Africa is increasingly  a tinderbox as the ANC Government continues to fail to deliver the sort of economic conditions that create employment, leaving millions of overwhelmingly black people (but more than a few whites, Indians and others it must be said) without work or prospects and with every passing month the politics becomes more radical to keep Mr Malema the leader of a minority support political party and not a majority one. He could easily hold the balance of power at the next national elections. The ANC rightly fear his politics and promises.

When President Ramaphosa said the law would now change to take land, he was clearly doing it to appease the increasingly-powerful firebrand and leader of the EFF. Of that particular fellow, everyone in South Africa should be frightened; irrespective of their skin colour. The reality is, however, that he is increasingly popular and he clearly does not like white people, no matter what he says. 

Part of me says good on the Aussies, but the other part says what about every other person in South Africa who is being 'discriminated' against because of their skin colour, and who is now paying for the sins of their (grand)fathers? 

I happen to be in South Africa at the moment and I’m noticing that those looking to leave the country are increasingly young and desperate and usually, but by no means all, white. I am seeing more and more young black South Africans as well. Most whites are leaving because they are being shut out of tertiary education and employment opportunities. I’ve always accepted Affirmative Action (priority given to black applicants for jobs and places at University for example) was a necessary ‘reset’ in trying to redress the social and economic inequality created by Apartheid. The fact that it is also economic suicide on so many levels is a price the ruling party and the majority of people of South Africa seem willing to pay. It smacks to me of short-term political gain for long-term economic pain.

Returning to Dutton’s concerns however, it strikes me as somewhat hypocritical that a nation known for “discouraging” refugees by dumping them in detention centres in the middle of deserts, shipping them off to third-world countries or locking them up on islands in the middle of the Indian Ocean misses a couple of points — many of those (non-white) refugees will be Engineers, Teachers, Software Developers and otherwise simply hard-working people looking for a break who would give as much to Australia as South African farmers would, and who also have a genuine and well founded fear of persecution if they stay in their home country which is discriminating against them.

Is being a white refugee better for Australia than being a non-white one?

What makes white South Africans so special? And what makes farmers more special than other people looking to get out of South Africa? Does Australia have a shortage of farmers? Would it also take non-white farmers under their fast track visa thinking or is it limited to whites (the legislation in SA is not limited to taking white owned land without compensation)? How about all the skilled white South Africans who are not farmers who would saw off their left arm for a chance to raise their children in a country where apparently skin colour doesn’t matter?

How ironic that a country apparently outraged at the racist treatment of white farmers is happy to have, at its core, an openly racist visa policy based on skin colour.

Someone tell me why you would single out white South African farmers for special treatment over and above the thousands of other whites (and other highly skilled but non-whites) in South Africa that are being cut out of the country's economic future? It is incredible they even think it let alone publicly declare it and it is racist. I am sure if they go through with it and you were a white South African farmer you won’t care, and I wouldn’t blame you. 

The Australian Minister of Immigration has long been a highly-controversial character with some of his world views, and I accept it’s up to each country to decide who they want, what skills they want and in what numbers. it has been a long time however since Australia chose migrants based on skin colour - a return to the pre 1950s whites only policy?

If however, Mr Dutton thinks that white farmers who are having their livelihood put at risk might be good for such a “civilised” country, what about all the rest of the white and other recently marginalised people in South Africa also being “persecuted” because they happen to now be growing up in a country in which their grandfathers ruled that whites and non-whites would be treated differently?

It says a lot to me about what makes Australia 'tick'.

Until next week...

Iain MacLeod, Southern Man

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