Opinion: National's immigration policy is about wealth, not skills

OPINION: When governments have no idea how to fix things, they look for someone to blame instead. And it's all too common a practice for immigrants to bear the brunt of our insecurity.

They're an easy scapegoat. I'm a child of migrants. Families have been dehumanised and reduced to dollar signs. Their admittance to New Zealand is now dependent on ticking certain boxes and our voices being heard is contingent on continuing to meet these criteria while mainstream New Zealand and political populists continue to bash our heritage.

If I were applying as a skilled migrant to come home under National's proposed plan, I'd need to earn more than $48,859 - that's at least $25 per hour. In 2015, before I started my doctorate in the United States, I worked for the Auckland Council on a short-term contract and they paid me $22/hr. At that time, I had a Bachelor of Arts, Master of Arts, eight years' teaching experience and more than five years' work experience.

It flabbergasts me that one of the Government's express goals is to develop a highly skilled work force, but it doesn't consider teachers  whose starting salary is up to $48,165 - to fall into this category.

Andrew Little was right to call National's policy mere "tinkering", but his prescription would appear to be even harsher restrictions on migrants entering the country, so he too, unfortunately, has missed the point.

And there are many points being missed in this conversation. The first vital one is that there are lines of clear prejudice being crossed that are not being appropriately dealt with.

Many professions in New Zealand are undervalued and therefore underpaid, and as a consequence, under staffed.

It makes no sense to say that this is about attracting highly skilled workers when your measure of someone's skill is actually the level of potential income they can earn.

Numerous studies show that income levels are not commensurate with qualifications or skills and are also very much nestled in systemic issues of race and gender bias.

Income is very much correlated with privilege, a cycle that continues to underpay women, and also tends to zero in on particular highly paid professions that traditionally (for historical and social reasons) favoured white men.

And while it may not have been knowingly designed to achieve this, it's clear the Government's policy will restrict migrants from lower income southeast Asian countries in favour of more like Peter Thiel, who most likely will find loopholes to pay less taxes than they're meant to, yet wield more political influence than an average New Zealander could ever dream of.

That's the crux of the matter for me. If our Government was doing its job right, migrants, regardless of their income bracket would pay the right amount of taxes to contribute to the development of our country's infrastructure and function as a catalyst for expanding our economy.

This policy is ludicrous, it's short-sighted and it's the wrong direction for New Zealand to have turned whilst in the middle of a post-Trumpocalypse political environment.

It's an admission of ineptitude in administering a nationally integrated growth plan for our country. I worry that this is a sign of things to come in an election year.

Let's not continue to pick the lowest-hanging fruit on the tree. We can do better.

Patrick Thomsen is a Samoan Kiwi, born and raised in south Auckland. He is a PhD candidate at the University of Washington.

 

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