Immigration policy is not meeting skills shortage needs - Andrew Little

Labour's leader is defending his plan to cut immigrant numbers, saying it's the right thing for New Zealand.

The party will cut 30,000 a year, if it gets in power.

Andrew Little told The AM Show New Zealand's immigration policy is not letting in the skilled people the country needs.

"The way we've set up our immigration system - if you do one of those courses and you're basically here for a couple of years - you get more points doing that and having your certificate than an oncologist who might be in their mid-40s wanting to come out here… even though they've got a specialist qualification we need - that's the crazy thing about it."

He says Labour is not targeting low-level courses but low-quality ones.

"And what is pretty clear is the reason why we're getting so many overseas students interested in them is it's more about the work than it is about learning on the course."

Immigration policy shouldn't be designed to sustain a bunch of private training businesses, he says.

"You run an immigration policy to do what we've always done in New Zealand, which is meet skills shortages needs.

"If you're going to add 130,000 new people to the city of Auckland as we have done in the last three years, that is going to have an impact on the housing market, on traffic congestion, on the public services. We've just got to slow it down."

But Independent Tertiary Education NZ chair Christine Clark told The AM Show Mr Little has it wrong.

"He talks about low level qualifications; he's actually meaning low quality qualifications. There's a very big difference.

"Low level… it's the chefs, it's the trades, it's the vocations, it's the things New Zealand is excellent at."

She says if Labour became government and enforced the policy the international education sector would lose $3.5 billion "straight away", and up to 70 percent of the institutions training international students could fail.

It would "annihilate" the industry, and thousands of New Zealanders would lose their jobs, she claims.

But the Building and Construction Industry Training Organisation has called Labour's immigration policy a smart move.

Under the KiwiBuild Visa, building firms can bring in skilled workers, additional to construction work visas issued under existing rules.

"It might attract more firms to train because they can't get access to those exterior skills," chief executive Warwick Quinn says.

"But we still need skills immediately that are able to hit the workplace and operate straight away, and we don't want to choke that supply until such time as we've grown our own, so it is that delicate balance."

The Aged Care Association however is criticising the policy, saying the level and quality of care for elderly will be compromised.

Chief executive Simon Wallace says they need migrants to care for the elderly because it's work Kiwis won't do.

"It's our residents that we need to think about, and they will be the ones that suffer if we're not able to employ migrants for these roles.

"We have about 6000 out of the 22,000 caregivers in our sector that are on some kind of visa, and with this new policy we are going to really be hit and we're going to have trouble filling those roles."