Opinion: Sensible immigration will allow rural communities to flourish

By Nick Hanson

OPINION: A big shakeup could be coming for New Zealand's immigration policy.

Many of the proposed changes are sensible and will lead to a simplification of the immigration system, but there is also concern that while the system might be easier to understand, it will be harder, longer and more costly to employ workers from overseas.

Under the proposals, every employer who wishes to employ a migrant must become an accredited employer. In theory, this is good  migrants deserve to come to New Zealand to an employer who treats them well and complies with New Zealand employment law. 

However, if basic level accreditation becomes overly bureaucratic and limits access to desperately needed labour, small businesses especially will not be able to be sustainable, let alone grow. 

A lot of the rhetoric around the last election and since, including many of the justifications for the most recent proposed changes to immigration policy has centred on the risk that migration poses to New Zealand. 

Presumably, that's about taking jobs from New Zealanders or depressing wages, but there is little evidence of this panning out in reality. Plus, beyond anything else, we have to get past the idea of considering migrant workers simply filling a gap until New Zealanders are available. 

We have an advanced economy that will likely always have labour shortages in certain areas, especially in rural communities. There may be a tenuous link to pressure on infrastructure like housing, roading and hospitals by population growth through migrants in Auckland, but when it comes to rural settlements that's certainly not true. Migrant families who work on dairy and other farming operations are often the new growth that gives the vital critical mass to places like schools and sports clubs.

Migrant families who come to work on New Zealand farms bring an important diversity to the regions. It's something that is valuable beyond the impact on the labour force. They pay tax and contribute to society in a million different ways. 

Restricting sensible immigration not only hurts business, but it holds communities back from making social advances. We need migrants to grow, not just economically.

Nick Hanson is Federated Farmers Industry Policy Manager.