The Government is poised to unveil measures aimed at “controlling” the flow of migrants in a move seen as an attempt to neutralise the hot-button issue in election year.
But it is refusing to say exactly what impact they are likely to have on record net migrant numbers that hit 71,000 in the past year.
Speaking ahead of a major speech by Immigration Minister Michael Woodhouse in Queenstown on Wednesday, Prime Minister Bill English said the changes were designed to get better control and to better match immigrants with the skills needed.
Asked what impact the new moves would have on net inflows, English said he would not give an exact estimate.
“The changes are about controlling the flows, I’m just not going to forecast exactly what impact they may or not have because forecasts have proven to be wrong so often over the last couple of years.”
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He pointed to changes already announced late last year and said Woodhouse would be announcing “further adjustments”.
His comments came as NZ First leader Winston Peters continued his long-standing campaign over the level of immigration and Labour steps up its rhetoric over the impact of record immigration on Auckland’s infrastructure.
Also on Tuesday Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced the abolition of 457 visas for skilled migrants, replacing it with a new visa.
Turnbull’s aim was to ensure immigrant workers filled genuine skills shortages, and were not given visas just because employers found it easier to bring in a foreign worker than recruit an Australian.
English said the objectives of changes here were “pretty similar” to Australia’s.
“We want to be able to control the flows and get a good match between the skills we need – because we certainly have skill shortages and need to fill the gap – and make sure we get the right mix of people coming in,” he said.
“You always have to keep tweaking the policy to adjust to the economic reality on the one hand, but on the other hand to make sure you are getting the right mix for the good of the country not just for that industry.”
English pointed to a freight operator he had spoken to who had 28 out of 180 truck parked up because he couldn’t get truck drivers “for love or money”.
He would have a view, as did some in the hospitality and other industries, of what amounts to skilled work and what they can recruit, English said.
Changes had already been made, such as giving a significant weight to migrants who moved to areas outside Auckland and cuts to the rights of access for parents.
In October Woodhouse cut the target range for the number of people gaining residence from 90,000-100,000 down to 85,000-95,000.
At the same time he raised the number of points required for residence from 140 to 160 under the Skilled Migrant Category and cut the number of places available for those who wanted to join family members here.
The capped family categories were cut to 2000 a year from 5500 and he temporarily closed the Parent Category to new applications..
Also last year the Government updated its efforts to develop “a skilled and safer workforce” to promote investment in skills, maximise employment for adult Kiwis and “use immigration settings to attract the best people to fill skill shortages across different sectors and regions”.