Speaking on Duncan Garner Today, population expert and co-chair of the largest global network of migration specialists, Paul Spoonley said it's time for New Zealand to talk about immigration.
"It is, all our demography has been turned inside out because of COVID. I think it's timely to have that debate, but at the moment the debate is really only about immigration.
Spoonley emphasised the role COVID-19 has played in limiting population growth in New Zealand over the past two years. In the 12 months prior to COVID New Zealand recorded 79,400 new immigrants, nearly 20,000 above the yearly average of 60,000.
"Prior to COVID we were growing at 2.1 percent per year and two-thirds of that came from immigration. We are down at around 0.6 percent which is pretty much what most high-income countries are."
He spoke about some potential changes we could see following a report from the Productivity Commission due to be released on April 30th. One was 'substitution', which essentially means replacing New Zealanders with 'cheap' migrant workers. Spoonley added that cheap doesn't strictly relate to pay, but also the skill an experienced and trained international worker brings as a fully skilled worker who has not cost New Zealand time and resources in getting to a certain level of competence and experience before entering the country.
The migration specialists' second issue was the population growth, which has put enormous pressure on infrastructure.
"It was already in deficit when we had high population growth we were struggling. The irony is of course that the room that you're talking about is probably going to be built by migrant workers.
"We are not training up enough people in terms of our construction industry. So the easiest way to do it is to top it up with migrants"
He worries that the housing supply is not lining up with the housing demand and that the current structure is too rigid in its building techniques.
"I was really really impressed at the possibilities of co-housing. When you look at Europe and you look at how they house different groups there. What you need is a diversity of building arrangements."
A solution could start with encouraging more locals into the construction industry. Long term though, he says immigrants need to be incentivised to spread themselves across the country, not just in Auckland.
"Get the regions playing a much greater role in migration. They've got to specify what they want, they've got to give up to half the points required for a migrant to come to New Zealand. There are very few incentives for people to come anywhere other than Auckland."