Immigration Minister Michael Woodhouse says despite record immigration, there are fewer people gaining permanent residency than when Winston Peters was Foreign Minister a decade ago.
Mr Peters, a longtime critic of immigration, wants immigration cut to between 7,000 and 15,000. The past 12 months has seen a net migration gain of 68,100 -- the highest on record, with 124,700 arrivals and 56,000 departures.
Labour leader Andrew Little has called for a reduction in the number of work visas, which accounted for just under a third of all arrivals, saying they're taking jobs away from Kiwis.
Mr Woodhouse says it's not as simple as Mr Little makes out.
"It's easy to say there are number of people who are unemployed and there are a number of jobs that haven't been filled by Kiwis -- but the maths isn't as straightforward as that," he told Paul Henry.
"The people who are looking for work aren't in the places where the work is, and of course you've heard very recently about how hard it is to get people to move for any reason."
With GDP growth at 2.3 percent, Mr Woodhouse says it's necessary to "augment" the workforce with immigrants.
"We want to make sure we've got enough people to fill the jobs that a growing economy needs."
Mr Woodhouse says there are actually fewer foreigners taking up permanent residence in New Zealand now than there were 10 years ago, when Mr Peters was Foreign Minister.
Statistics NZ figures show in 2006, 58,714 non-Kiwis were classified as permanent or long-term arrivals -- but in 2015 it was 91,767.
Mr Woodhouse says they're not all actually permanent residents.
"There's about 20,000 more working holidaymakers, about 20,000 more international students, there's growth in temporary visa holders, and the only place where the numbers have gone down is in people gaining residency… We've got to get through the irrational nonsense and rhetoric Winston has had for years."
But the figures also show there are still more Kiwis leaving than coming home, and the net gain in migration is entirely down to non-New Zealand citizens. The number of returning Kiwis has fluctuated between 24,000 and 30,000 over the last decade.
The gap has narrowed in recent years, from a peak in 2012 of 38,844 to last year's loss of 4725 Kiwis.
Mr Peters has also called for more rigorous screening at the border for people from countries that "treat women like cattle".
"We want them to salute our flag, respect our laws, honour our institutions and, above all, don't bring absolutely anti-women attitudes with them, treating women like cattle, like fourth-class citizens," he said at the weekend.
Mr Woodhouse says it shows Mr Peters has a "real lack of understanding" about how the visa application process works.
"We certainly put them through a pretty rigorous screening process… he is just playing that xenophobic card."