Opinion

Rachel Smalley: Labour has once again gone down the ideology route

Opinion: Well, there's quite a lot they could be getting along with at Immigration New Zealand at the moment. 

The backlog of applications, for a start. There are thousands, we're told. They're in all categories - skilled migrants, investors, the occasional nurse who is still pursuing a visa despite no offer of a fast track to residency. We have a chronic labour shortage and we need migrant labour. 

Ask our rural sector. Ask hospo. Ask the health sector. Ask tourism. Ask manufacturing. Ask construction. Ask our retirement villages. Ask aged care providers. Ask anyone. New Zealand needs people. 

Right now, there are many people stuck in the system. That's because when the government closed the border back in 2020 and, for whatever reason - and unlike the Australians - immigration New Zealand took that as a sign to down tools as well. You would think they would keep processing visas so that when our borders did open, we would be ready. They did process a few for sports teams and entertainers, but essentially the ministry came to a grinding halt. 

The challenge for Michael Wood, the newly appointed minister of immigration, was to determine what he should focus on first. Where should he put his efforts? And, in a remarkable decision, he's chosen to go after the millionaires. Nothing says "A Labour Government's in power" like a decision to target successful, wealthy individuals. The investor category, implemented by National back in 2009, is working just fine. It's brought over NZ$12 billion into New Zealand. It wasn't broke, but Labour's decided to fix it. 

Here's how it used to work. There were two investor categories. You either invested NZ$3 million or $10 million in New Zealand bonds and stocks for 3 or 4 years, and you were given residency at the end of that period. You have to pass medicals and jump through a few more hoops too.  

Those two visa categories - and who knows why the urgency - but both of those investor category visas will be scrapped in seven days... Seven days... Gone. 

And it will be replaced in September - they think - by an active investor plus category. They will now need to invest $15 million and leave it for 3-4 years, or they can invest a minimum of $5 million in a New Zealand business. Now, on the face of it, that sounds clever, until you think about the risk attached to this. 

I understand NZTE will be involved in some way trying to engage investors with businesses. But this is a tricky, tricky development. There are so many questions and right now, the government can't answer them. 

If I invest $5 million in the business and the business folds, who shoulders the risk? It won't be the Government. 

What happens when, at the end of three or four years, the investor needs to provide evidence of that investment, but it's gone - what then? Is the application declined? No-one knows. That part of the framework hasn't been developed yet. 

When will the new category be introduced? September, we're told. 

Here's another issue. 

In the current investor 2 $10 million category, applicants lodge an expression of interest and every fortnight, names are drawn from a pool, and they are asked to apply for residency. It’s understood there are somewhere between 80-100 people who have been asked to apply for residency but are yet to submit their applications. Some will be accessing tax certificates, medicals, police checks and a myriad of other documentation that are a requirement of Immigration New Zealand. Many won’t make the cut. 

There are very real implications for New Zealand's overseas brand. There really are. Our approach to immigration has been brutal over the last two and a half years. Zero empathy. Zero understanding of how we've hurt divided families, how much distress we caused by not allowing Kiwis to come home, the MIQ system and the skilled migrants who've been locked in or locked out. While the Government has championed the 'be kind' mantra, it has not lived its truth. Labour's policies and attitudes to immigration have caused considerable harm. 

This decision to shut down these categories after inviting people to get their applications together and apply will have repercussions. Who closes an entire visa category down in a week? I'll tell you who. Labour does. 

There can be no denying the reality of the situation we find ourselves in under this government. Labour is fiercely anti-immigrant and situations like this illuminate its entrenched dislike of wealth-generators and overseas success stories. New Zealand needs foreign capital, it needs outside thinking. Instead, we're back to ol' hermit kingdom again. 

Watch this space, this policy will stop investors in their tracks. Applications will dry up. Why would you risk investing $5 million in a business that you don't really know, in a country that you're not 100 percent familiar with yet? Who does that? No-one. 

Labour has once again gone down the ideology route. Ideology never trumps logic. It never trumps reality. 

If only labour would ask questions. Engage. Talk to migrants. Look at what the Australians are doing. Look at what the Canadians have done. They've rolled out the red carpet to investors. 

Labour has slammed the door shut. So here we are people, living in our hermit kingdom. Sometimes it feels like we're taking part in some sort of student union social experiment. And the reality is, we quite possibly are.