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Tuesday, 30 May 2017

Why NZ is still not ready to talk about immigration but lets try anyway!

So, with the budget having dropped onto New Zealand’s collective political conscious (like a wet sack full of moldy vegetables) I think it’s safe to talk about immigration for a while.

Not that I want to talk about it (because as I noted in my post last year I don’t think NZ is ready to discuss it) but because my friend Hardly (who wrote a guest post for me on KP last year) asked (possibly dared) me to.

But I have not only been putting off writing this post for several weeks now I have also re-written this post several times before I just said to hell with it, made a nice cold jellybean*, put on some Neon Indian and decided to confront the writer’s block head on.

So, let’s not write about immigration lets write about why I cannot write about immigration and see if we can’t wring a few insights out of the subject in the process.

So, to start it’s not that this is not a topic I know nothing about, in fact it’s the opposite because apart from five years working for Immigration New Zealand (INZ), heading up various teams there dealing with cases deemed high risk, a decade living and traveling across Asia as well as working in international education (both onshore and off) I have experienced the immigration process from both sides of the line as well across a variety of formats and can not only relate cases, statistics and policy I can also speak from the direct experience of someone who has processed visa applications but also from that of someone who has had to wait in endless lines for one, never quite knowing what the outcome will be.

But if it’s not that then perhaps it’s the sheer complexity of the subject that is making me balk writing about it because when people talk about “immigration” they are usually referring to either one specific aspect of immigration (for example as how it might relate to rising house prices in NZ) or in rather nebulous terms (as in when people start to discuss the “immigration problem”) which lump a rather complex subject under one heading and damn those torpedoes!

Alas it’s not that either because as noted above previous work and life experience means I don’t usually let myself get side-tracked by interesting but related issues or revert back to some ginormous catchall (as the media often does).

Because while it’s tempting to blame the housing hernia on immigration (or immigrants or whatever related factor you want to ascribe) the reality is we have a government which has been aware of the problem and decided to do nothing about it rather address the fact that million dollar houses in Auckland (driven up by a wide variety of factors to which they have decided to do nothing about) might be the real problem.

Add to this that the usual reversion to the ideologically tempting (but ultimately pointless) knee-jerk arguments and positions (such as immigrants stealing jobs), as public discourse, as well as the media, is wont to do can easily be stifled by focusing on the actual issue at hand (again, for example, those insane house prices in Auckland), marshaling some basic facts and seeing that while immigration related aspects might contribute to the problem the afore mentioned knee-jerk reaction (such as saying that its all the fault of “those bloody immigrants” or (my favorite) “I’m not racists but…”) just makes one look like a jerk and does not help the debate one iota.

Then perhaps it’s the binary nature of the meta-argument which sees two equally viable but opposed arguments, those of Globalism vs Nationalism, locking up my synapses by both having positions to which I agree with.

One which posits the inevitable consolidation of smaller political units into larger as the world becomes more and more interconnected against the one thing which restrains and regulates those self-same forces from wrecking wholesale havoc by acting without limits and at speeds too fast for people and cultures to adjust to.

Sadly, again, it’s not too difficult to step back and see the validity of both arguments and to place oneself on one side of the line or other in relation to the forces at hand (for example being a globalist in regards to travel and security issues but a nationalist when it comes to protecting the citizens of your country first over those who would exploit your country) and work through the process rather than just say it’s one or the other.

Finally, is it the statistics of the matter which makes this such a difficult topic? Is it the fact that immigration stats can and are (as any stats can be) often twisted, taken out of context or simply not fully understood, leading to their use as ammunition in whatever argument happens to be cooking up (for example, say it with me this time, the housing crisis in NZ)?

Nope it’s not the numbers because while there are all sorts of stats which can be bandied about (the current flavour of the month is that we have 70,000 plus more arrivalsthan departures) a little further digging in the stats (and I have linked some of the better sources to dig into for your own enlightenment/enjoyment at the bottom) can provide some more solid statistics which, while not absolutes (because they are only numbers after all and immigration, in the end, is a very human topic), to break things down from some sort human tidal wave crashing onto our shores and destroying our nation to more meaningful metrics (such as related info about who these people are, where the come from and why they are coming here) showing that NZ is a nation of immigrants, always has been, and may always be so, and which like a beach, gets caressed by endless waves day after day without eroding.

So why is it that every time I approach a keyboard to try and write this post I end up going off to play games, read a book, listen to music or watch a movie; anything but write about a topic I feel I should be able to blog about?

The answer is sadly the same one which it always is when it comes to topics such as this: politics! Pure bloody politics.

Or more to the point: FukYoo politics in an age when we are on the cusp of one of the most major and dramatic shifts in human history as the politics of the national collide head on with those of the global in a free for all, battle to the death as the structure and organs of the nation state (atrophied and withered as they are) are pitted against the flexing muscle mass of globe that is rapidly becoming more unified than divided.

But if that description was a bit too vague for you then let’s break it down to brass tacks and say that this is the Ragnarok of things like racism, religion and class as they enact themselves though the political vehicle of the nation state in an argument which will see something very new come out of all the chaos and struggle.

And this is not the first time we have been at this point, we were here a few hundred years ago when the industrial revolution was kicking in and nation states were developing out of the decaying remains of feudalism, when the first global war (the Seven Years War) was being fought and new technologies and ways of thinking ( think steam power, the printing press and mass production) were displacing and replacing the old (the shift from the rural to urban) and social, economic and political change was generating such anger (the revolutions of 1848) that those days don’t seem so far removed from the mood of today with all that simmering populist sentiment.

Yet it’s not at these stratospheric heights that immigration in NZ as we know it exists yet these are the very threads which bind the topic into such a congealed mess as issues of employment, tourism, the environment, security, identity, health, human rights and simple nationality (as well as others) are drawn together and which lead to the sheer complexity of the topic often overwhelming people so that they do revert to knee-jerk positions and arguments or losing sight of the forest for the trees (as we focus too much on one tree to the detriment of the forest).

And that is how politics would have it, that is how politicians would have us discuss it; either as some rabid (and often racist) outburst or with an overly detailed focus on one aspect to distract us from all the others so they can make political capital off it.


As anyone who has read this blog (or KP) for any period of time knows, I like stats, I like prying the buggers apart and seeing what can be drawn from them or, failing that, throwing them together and seeing what will stick.

But to do this for this post, I had to go and see what actual data was out there and removed from the kind of data I used to see when I was at INZ, this was from the publicly available data on the internet which is not as complete or comprehensive.

So, what stats there are available for NZ in regards to immigration are limited to things like Stats NZ, sites like, and whatever INZ itself has made available (like MBIEs Tourism Data Domain Plan) as well as any articles in NZ media which took the time to generate a bar or line graph (the best being the NZ Heralds Insights by Lincoln Tan and Harkanwal Singh).

And while I could do a whole post on the numbers the following stats stand out the most:

  • Asian immigration makes up the bulk of people coming to NZ (both long term and short term)

  • There were over 10,000 estimated** over-stayers in NZ for 2016 alone but just over 8000 people were deported, removed or voluntarily departed from NZ for the period 2006 to 2011***

  • Fijians had over 120,000 visitor visas issued in the last six years yet the population of Fiji is just a shade over 900,000 people

  • 81% of student visas issued are for fee paying students (45% of which are from India and China)

  • The most popular occupation for employment conditions for work and residence visas is Tour Guide (at 30,380) followed by Chef (29,934), Retail manager (14,259 and up 10% from before), CafĂ© and Restaurant Manager (14,000 plus) and Dairy Farmer (11,000 plus)

  • Visitor visas (tourists etc) jumped from 278,000 issued in 2010 to 631,440 issued in 2016

  • 70% (34,000) of residency visas issued were under the Business/Skills category in 2016

Exiting stuff, I know but what are we to make of these numbers?

The correct answer is nothing, until we decide which side of the line our argument is likely to stand on each stat (globalist or nationalist) and until we have married the data to various issues (such as the large increase in tourism numbers with the issue of said tourists driving on the roads in NZ) and even then it’s easy to get lost in brainless platitudes (like our PMs amazingly stupid (and unsupported) anecdote about all the unemployed being too drugged out to work (hence why we need all those 11,000 plus dairy farmers).

As someone famous once said, stats are not truth, they just provide the clubs with which to beat one’s opponent, they are the tools to winning an argument**** and not the argument in itself.


At this point I don’t think I am any closer to explaining why I am unable to write about immigration in NZ and having explored the basic themes I am still very hesitant to rip that juicy little scab off the wound no matter how much its begging for it (and with recent media coverage doing little more than presenting the hacks guide to immigration in NZ rather than actually discussing it the temptation has been down on its hands and knees pleading me).

And what holds me, and possibly others back, is that to enter this debate is that even just sticking one’s little toe into the waters can get one labelled a racist or worse because while race never comes into the making of any immigration decision made by INZ, nationality sure can due to the actions of a particular group or nationality.

Or the converse can apply and a single incident can get blown out of proportion and the actions of one can tar all others of that ilk with the stain of being too liberal, too harsh or just too ignorant and suddenly sweeping measures are being called for.

Go back for a moment and look at those statistics above.

What stands out for you, what catches your eye? Is it the numbers, is it the nationalities or is it the occupations? Or something else?

Or do those things boil away into a steamy vapor which clouds your judgement and leave you seeing nothing but shadowy indistinct figures because in an age where we no longer declare war on entities like nations but on vague and unsubstantial concepts like terror it’s easy for even recognized security experts (who should really know better) to start making calls for things like greater scrutiny of certaingroups or people (even when that level of scrutiny already exists or would not make any applicable difference) and for immigration issues to start becoming a shortcut to fear of anything that is not known or comfortably able to be assimilated.

Because in politics rational is a word you rarely encounter and it seems that in immigration the same can also apply.

So here we are nearly 3000 words in and no closer to getting to the bottom of the issue or even breaching any major layers of the debate having only just laid out some points on which to start building a foundation.

But I will say here that the reason why I approach the debate around this topic with hesitancy is not due to its complexity, or fear of being labelled or for any other of the barriers that can hold others back. No, what is holding me back is something else: empathy.

I have been on both sides of the line making (often difficult) decisions about people which could have life changing consequences for them as well as sitting or standing (sometimes in long lines while in a sweltering hot room full of nervous expectant people), waiting on a decision that could change my life; or experiencing situations, such as having a gun shoved in your face by overly aggressive border guards (of a nation I won’t mention here because I am a nice guy) who were convinced that having improper documentation meant I was “a spy” and ready to drag my ass off to some cell for however long it took to get “the truth” out of me until I was able to pay the US $200 as a special “processing fee”.

On the other hand, I have waved 10 US dollars to the little men in the hats at the immigration station and been whisked through to the “priority” queue while locals who could not afford such a fee watched with mute resentment in a certain country which I used to enjoy visiting for holidays*5.

And empathy here is the key. It has never stopped me from making a hard decision but it mean that any decision I made was made with care and consideration and with as much information as possible and in my time at INZ I declined plenty of visas (one of the side effects of dealing with anything that was high risk) but every single one of those was made with thought and deliberation and with principles like fairness and natural justice (even when I was grinding my teeth with fury at having to do so because an immigration lawyer in NZ was making me) presiding.

And that I think is why this is such a hard topic for me to write a post about and why in the wake of Brexit and Trump such a subject it’s become even harder to bring this up without ending up wrestling with some hideous political python (already stuffed full of a chicken and a village dog*6) which does nothing but twist the debate into knots.

Yet I do have opinions on the immigration debate but remain loath to bring them up here; but since the post that I agreed to write was to contain “My five policy changes to immigration” I will have to front up and present five, in no particular order, changes to the current system as it is in order to affect a better outcome in NZ.

There are no magic bullets here and I will not be providing any major explanation why, as I leave them to the reader to judge them through their own immigration filter until NZ is ready to have this debate for real.

But since I take requests for posts and one of those is to discuss how Peter Thiel got a NZ passport this debate may be starting sooner rather than later, for me at least.

So, with no further ado here they are (in no particular order):

1.       No offshore education agents for Student Visa applications (the only visa category in NZ where an unlicensed and offshore party is allowed to operate)
2.       No work rights on Student visas (currently they are allowed 20 hours a week)
3.       Doubling the number of Immigration compliance officers in NZ (the current numbers are scandalously low and they are mostly directed to dealing with employment cases which are time consuming and difficult to prosecute rather than dealing with quicker and easier cases like simple over-stayers)
4.       No million-dollar investor category for visas (ie no getting a visa because you are rich)
5.       No dual citizenship (this last one is technically a citizenship/DIA issue but as it’s a flow on and motivator for some of the worst immigration abuses in NZ (some publicly known some not) so I am letting this one slide)

And if you are reading through those and seeing a theme you would be right, there is, and its addressing the worst holes in the current immigration system NZ has (from a top five perspective). 

Recent government changes made a start on the matter but it’s the execution of those policies and any special exemptions that might be wrangled in (like how Queenstown basically gets a blanket exemption to having to prove the validity of needing to employ a foreign worker over a kiwi in a town where only the ultra-rich can afford to live) that worry me.

That’s right, it’s not terrorists, or rouge drivers hogging the road (although I now drive the Tekapo to Twizel highway with maximum alertness as tourists in white SUVs are hogging the road and driving dangerously like its Death Race 2000); or housing speculators of any particular nationality.

Have I addressed all the burning “immigration issues” in NZ (like foreign workers or said housing speculators), certainly not because as I have noted these are not really immigration issues they are employment and housing (what do you call a kiwi who owns more than one home?) issues respectively and not really the concern of immigration in NZ.

If we had a living wage and cheaper house prices we would not have those issues and no one would be claiming “they took our jobs!” or “planning to slash immigration numbers by the tens of thousands”.

And it’s now time to end this post as it started with us no closer to being actually able to talk about it but at least having got this off my chest I can now start on the other posts I have planned on topics such as the third installment of my semi-autobiographical series exploring my political views and psyche (called Plumbing the Depths) and more coverage on what is now passing for an election build up in this country (god help us!).

Until then I encourage all readers to try and wrestle with the python as best one can but take the time to consider the position they are truly coming from rather than clamping on some ill-fitting, and pre-made immigration viewpoint which either lionizes the Globalist/Nationalist debate without any real thought or even worse sets up voting for a party which has immigration policies which may not actually benefit you.

So Hardly, you have given me three weeks’ worth of writer’s block and made me drink far more Jellybeans than I intended in the same period while writing what has possibly the hardest post I have ever written, I hope it was worth it.

*-Ouzo and Raspberry cola, yummy!
**-estimated because INZ does not actually know how many people overstay but I can guarantee that those numbers are a conservative estimate
***-the best data I could get from stats NZ
****-I am paraphrasing very badly here and I do not recall exactly who so no speech marks
*5-Not the same country as the one with the armed and hyper tense border guards; I never even considered going back there after that little incident figuring that my next visit might be a lot like Hotel California (I could check in but would never leave)
*6-This was how my last weekend ever in Indonesia ended except with less actual wrestling and more of me shouting “what the f**k is that?” before bolting from my room at the village home-stay near Bandung in Java.


  1. " let’s not write about immigration lets write about why I cannot write about immigration"

    I guess I've just been imagining the tens of thousands of op eds, blog posts and documentaries talking about immigration since 1996, then. Quite an imagination I have.

    Maybe you should just write an autobiographical blog? You seem most passionate when talking about yourself, your life, and your experiences. The ostensible political angle often just seems like an excuse to get to that.

    1. Hi Anon:

      Yes there is a lot of commentary about the "immigration problem" but as I note most of it is not really about the immigration problem, that was the whole point of that post.

      Sometimes immigration is a factor in some of the issues facing NZ but its rarely the sole or even the main problem and coverage in the media, for whatever reason (be it word limit, editorial direction etc) does not do it justice with articles often having evocative titles and the content often limited to simply saying 'the numbers are going up and way to big" without any real discussion of the deeper issues.

      So your not imagining those things, and there are some good articles out there but the general mainstream discussion of the topic is limited and rarely getting down to the meat of the issue, which is, in part, why things like Brexit and Trump exist.

      Hence why I ended up trying to avoid simply saying "numbers, numbers, numbers", presenting the numbers I did put in without context and trying more to put the issue into the larger context which it fits better into.

      Your suggestion that I go full autobiographical has been previously considered by me but while I have a colorful history I deeply suspect that no-one is going to want to read about my life and its adventures without the political content.

      It was a nice suggestion though and I appreciate that.

      Also what in gods name are you doing reading my blog at 4.41 in the morning? I can only assume you work nights.

  2. " No dual citizenship "

    A truly disgusting and hateful proposal. Look at the list of countries that don't allow dual citizenship. Now look at the political freedoms index. Coincidence?

    Do you advocate stripping existing dual citizens of their NZ citizenship? Or perhaps they will be allowed to keep it if they renounce their other citizenships?

    How will you prevent people from hiding their dual citizenship from the NZ government? Other countries will often not cooperate. Ironically at present NZ doesn't cooperate with Malaysia's attempt to strip NZ citizens of their Malaysian citizenship. Presumably you disapprove of this.

    You need to remove the "anarchist" bit from "fascist anarchist". And also, to shut up. Very easy as a privilege straight white man to advocate removing the rights of the weaker people for some greater good.

    I can say why Pablo kicked you off Kiwipolitico. Maybe Whale Oil will give you sanctuary. You seem kindred spirits.

    1. Hi Elora:

      Your drawing a pretty long bow there with those arguments don't you think because I looked at the list of countries which don't allow (or only partialy allow) citizenship and here are some examples of what I found:


      Malta (if you have a million dollars)
      Philippines (technically yes but in reality rarely)


      India (the world largest democracy)
      Solomon Islands


      South Korea

      So yes there are some ugly countries on the "no citizenship" list but there are also some ugly countries on the dual citizenship list and some rather liberal ones one the limited circumstances citizenship list.

      Therefore what was the point you were making again? Yeah there are a lot of democracies on the dual list but places like Russia, Turkey and Syria alone on the dual list kind of kill your argument.

      So either you read my post and teed off without actually knowing what you were saying or were being disingenuous. which was it?

      Also correlation does not equal causation and making the argument that limiting dual citizenship equals low political freedoms may have some legs but you would be braver person than me for wheeling it out.

      As for Malaysia, yes an unpleasant situation but hardly the smoking gun in this debate.

      As for the rest of your reply you have done me a wonderful favor by proving my argument that come a discussion of immigration a knee-jerk reaction is a common occurrence when you veered off into the following:

      - Assuming that I am a white male
      - assuming I am privileged
      - Missing the point of what a fascist anarchist actually is
      - assuming Pablo kicked me off KP (not true I left of my own free will when he and I disagreed on the editorial policy)
      - Thinking I would be at home on Whaleoil
      - And telling me to "shut up"

      What you seem to have done is take a rather heroic approach to making an argument (casting yourself as some sort of defender of "the weaker people") but without checking the facts or maintaining a rational basis and then steering your argument into wild assumptions, personal attacks and just crazy (which is my stock in trade while the commentators are usually the rational ones).

      I assume you read the actual post? Saw the part where I talked about empathy etc but decided to ignore that and fire off anyway. Oh dear.

      I don't mind people going all SJW on me but it helps if you have your facts straight and your arguments aligned, and a sense of irony (which you may have but you did not display it in that reply).

      I am interested in what you thought of the other four.

    2. The dual citizenship question cuts closer to the bone than the wider issue of immigration. The problem is that many have an inadequate understanding of the meaning of the word "citizen", not helped by the notion of "citizenship education" which suggests that citizenship has to do with ethics and the exercise of social responsibility, or even vaguer ideas of citizenship as indicating a subjective state of belonging to a particular national community or territory.

      In the New Zealand context many wrongly assume that New Zealand citizenship confers a status similar or equivalent to that of tangata whenua. Yet in reality citizenship is not a relationship to the land or the communities living upon that land Rather it is a relationship to a particular state system under which the citizen accepts the sovereignty of the state which in turn gives the citizen rights which are commercial (right to own property, engage in trade, enter into contracts of employment etc) and political (right to participate within the political system, to petition or take office in the state and so on). Therefore most if not all New Zealand immigrants see citizenship as a practical transaction rather than as indicating a mystical sense of belonging to the people or the land. This is partly because New Zealand citizenship is commonly acquired through the immigrant stumping up with a large sum of cash for investment in higher education, housing or other purposes, and partly because immigrants understand that their oath of allegiance to the British queen means that they have been granted entry into the British imperial system, rather than to a nation based on a few small islands at the south eastern extremity of the Pacific ocean. For many new citizens New Zealand is just a way point on the journey to Britain, Australia or Canada rather than a place to call home.

      So the average immigrant, and the average middle class globalized citizen of virtually any nation, can see no reason why one should not have dual, triple or quadruple citizenship, or indeed why there should be any limit upon the number of passports they carry.

      This downgrading of the concept of citizenship and loyalty to nation is a global phenomenon, but New Zealand is something of a special case because as a colonial society it has never subscribed to the idea of a particular national identity or exclusive loyalty to the nation of New Zealand. British and Australian citizens in New Zealand have been automatically entitled to the rights of New Zealand citizens throughout most of New Zealand history, and subsequently the idea of dual British/New Zealand citizenship was widely accepted, extended to other "friendly" European nations, and eventually to the people of many other nations. So we had Harry Duynhoven simultaneously swearing solemn allegiance to the Queen of the Netherlands and to the Queen of Great Britain, and now Peter Thiel can be a citizen of the US, Germany, New Zealand and who knows what other states.

    3. The realm of New Zealand has never required the exclusive devotion or loyalty of its citizens and for its part has never been loyal to the people of Aotearoa. Its role has been to control and dominate the land and its people on behalf of others, and to that end it has sought or demanded tokens of submission, not so much to itself as to the imperial power. This has impacted most particularly on those who are native born and therefore could be suspected of harbouring deep and genuine feelings of loyalty to their nation and of being rather less willing to make a pragmatic accommodation with the designs and ambitions of the colonial state. As we all know, when tangata whenua refused to make such an act of obeisance, the state paid 5 pounds sterling for the head of each slain "rebel" and ever since the state has relied on successive waves of opportunistic immigrants to help maintain its control over recalcitrant natives. Such citizen immigrants have been employed to staff the police force, the army officer corps, the security services and the state bureaucracy in general, and are essential to the survival of colonial system of government. The AKL304 plot, for example, conceived at Aitken Street, was executed by a white South African immigrant who had only recently become a New Zealand citizen.

      The end result is that the the colonial state and the globalized middle class will not sacrifice the privilege of dual citizenship. Requiring New Zealand citizens to show exclusive and undivided loyalty to the nation of "New Zealand" or Aotearoa would be to challenge the fundamental colonial character of the New Zealand state. That is not a realistic prospect for the present.

  3. Hi Geoff:

    Those are valid points.

    However in regards to that point I was referring to a technicality which we encountered in Immigration around individuals having dual passports.

    I cant/wont go into the operation details but I don't think it would be very hard for you to figure out what problems could occur from having more than one passport when moving across borders.

    I am all for global citizenship and being able to swear loyalty to more than one nation (as my father did when he first came to NZ) but this one is a technical issue rather than a policy/pragmatism issue.

    This one is really just about multiple passports.