Minister’s competence called in to question

Press Release: Move2NZ

On behalf of Tammy Bell, owner of popular migrant community website A transcript of Breakfast TV’s interview with Nathan Guy on 6/3/12 is also presented below.

Nathan Guy’s competency as Immigration Minister is being questioned after data received from the Official Information Act confirmed that Guy’s inflammatory claims that a ‘third of migrants were on benefits’ were wildly misinterpreted and bore no relation to official statistics.

On March 6th the new Immigration Minister Nathan Guy was interviewed on TVNZ’s Breakfast programme to discuss the government’s plans to favour wealthy migrants. This interview has gained importance as Mr Guy has since confirmed that this conversation was the official launch of new government policy.

During the interview the Minister confirmed

“…. those [immigrants] that have been coming in previously have been very reliant on benefits. Even though they have had to have a job offer, in a lot of cases we have found that after a study we have done on the first 18 months that a third of them have ended up requiring a benefit.”

The Minister went on to say that

“Hard working taxpayers in New Zealand need to know that their money is being well invested, not spent on people sitting around on benefits”.

At a time when the government’s welfare reforms are creating pressure to reduce the number of people dependent on benefits these comments naturally caused anger and resentment to be directed towards migrants.

The Minister’s comments were unusual in that they appeared to undermine the immigration department’s long term goal of attracting high value migrants to invest their money and skills into New Zealand.

Tammy Bell, owner of popular migrant community website commented

“The Minister’s comments have caused alarm with many prospective migrants, who are likely to take their valuable skills elsewhere if they believe there is a one-in-three chance of being on benefits within 18 months. Considering immigration adds between $1.9 billion and $3 billion each year to our economy, his comments were extremely damaging”.

Information used by Mr Guy was taken from the Department of Labour’s Long Term Immigration Survey (LISNZ) which followed 5,144 migrants who took up residency in New Zealand between November 2004 and October 2005. Data was collected at 6 months, 18 months and 36 months after arrival.

However the LISNZ confirms in its summarised May 2009 report entitled ‘New Faces, New Futures, New Zealand’ that:

“less than 2% [of migrants surveyed] had received a core benefit”.

Responding to a request lodged by Bell under the OIA about his comments on “migrants claiming benefits, Mr Guy responded:

“only 66% of migrants who obtained residence through the Sibling and Adult Child Category reported having a job when surveyed 18 months after taking up permanent residence in New Zealand.”

Bell says she was deeply surprised by this revelation.

“How can the Minister confuse ‘not being in paid work’ with ‘claiming a benefit’? I can’t imagine what more an Immigration Minister could have done to damage New Zealand’s international reputation as a migrant destination”.

The Sibling and Adult Child Category accounted for just 2.5% of residence applications approved in the year to October 2005, however the Minister’s televised statement appeared to relate to all migrants coming to New Zealand.

“Even if a third of this small group wasn’t in full time work, where is the cost to the taxpayer?” Bell asks. “Migrants can’t claim benefits in the first two years after receiving residency and even if they did their family sponsor would be liable to pay every cent back to the government”.

Official forms signed by the sponsors of family migrants applying to come to New Zealand include a declaration that they promise to provide financial support and an acknowledgement that any costs to the government will be repaid by the sponsor or they will face enforcement and court action

The LISNZ survey confirms that of these family members not in full-time work 14% were retired, 33% were caring for dependents, and 29% were studying.

While the Minister has focussed on employment data collected 18 months into the LISNZ survey, final reports confirm that nearly 10% more of the family group were employed by the end of the study, than at the beginning. The majority of family members not in work were found to be studying or looking after dependents, not ‘requiring benefits’ as the Minister has claimed.

On May 16th, in a move presented to save government $40 million per year, Nathan Guy closed the Sibling and Adult Child categories on the basis that they did not generate “sufficient economic benefit for New Zealand”.

This move has drawn criticism and court action from migrant groups angry that changes were introduced with just three days’ notice.

According to Bell, these family members are vital to the successful settlement of high value migrants being actively attracted to New Zealand by the immigration department.

“The family category added security, supporting highly skilled workers and entrepreneurs employing Kiwis, helping them continue to add to our economy”.

Department of Labour reports have previously confirmed that 24% of migrants intending to stay permanently leave with a major cause being lack of family support.

The immigration department is funded from migrant fees. Immigration policies introduced in January 2010 effectively cut the number of skilled workers by nearly a third, leading to a record deficit for the department calculated to reach $44 million by June this year.

Mr Guy has admitted that migrant families will be split apart by the changes he has introduced which will enable his department to recoup losses caused by the decision to significantly reduce immigration numbers, however the Minister has not offered any explanation of why his television comments were incorrect.

Summary points:

  •  The Minister stated that a third of migrants claim benefits within 18 months.
  • Less than 2% of migrants from the study actually received benefits.
  • Migrants not in work were confirmed to be retired, caring for dependents or studying.
  • The Minister has used this as a reason to close the Sibling and Adult Child categories.
  • Experts claim this will reduce New Zealand’s appeal for high value migrants.
  • Immigration adds between $1.9 billion and $3 billion net of costs to New Zealand’s economy each year.

Transcript of Breakfast TV interview with Nathan Guy, 6/3/12

Petra Bagust: You’re with Breakfast, the time is 6:56. Ah we’re going to talk about immigration now, are wealthy  immigrants more welcome in New Zealand. If we take the government’s plans at face value it appears the answer is ‘yes’. Immigration changes will be aimed at reducing the number of unskilled migrants who struggle to get jobs and end up on the benefit. But are they fair? Immigration Minister Nathan Guy joins me now. Good Morning Mr. Guy.

Nathan Guy: Morning Petra, how are you?

Petra Bagust: Well thank you. Why do these changes need to be made?

Nathan Guy: Well what we have found Petra is that those that have been coming in previously have been very reliant on benefits. Even though they have had to have a job offer in a lot of cases we have found that after a study we have done on the first 18 months that a third of them have ended up requiring a benefit. We want to refocus this to ensure that those that are coming in have a decent income stream with them or via their sponsor and that they can perform in our modern day economy.

Petra Bagust: Alright. As it has been suggested does it in essence create an immigration system that favours the wealthy?

Nathan Guy: Well, we make no bones about that. We want to ensure that those that are coming in to our economy can hold down a job and ensure that they perform in our economy. Hard working taxpayers in New Zealand need to know that their money is being well invested, not spent on people sitting around on benefits, and you will know that the government is talking about big welfare reform plans this year, and these changes very much line up with those.

Petra: Alright. We want to talk about high income workers. What is the definition of ‘high income’ here?

Nathan Guy: Well we’re working through what those definitions will mean and I’ll announce those in due course. In essence the changes are that parents will still be able to come in, but they will need to have some financial dependence when they arrive and that will be savings that they will bring in, or indeed they’ll have cash-flow from their sponsor. And those adult children and siblings category, that will change and they will be required to apply through the Skilled Migrant Category.

Petra Bagust: So the balance I guess is between saving money, there is an estimated $40 million dollars going to be saved, and also the success of people immigrating to New Zealand and settling here. I guess some families will be split apart because of this new legislation.

Nathan Guy: That may happen, but of course they still have the option of replying through the Skilled Migrant Category. Parents still have the option of coming in to New Zealand if they have a sponsor and if they have that financial backing that I talked about before. So I make no apologies, this government is focused on driving the economy forward. Where possible we want migrants coming that are going to perform in our modern day economy.

Petra Bagust: Nathan Guy, Immigration Minister, thanks for joining us this morning.

Nathan Guy: Thank you.

Corin Dann: Look I’ve got no doubt the government is trying to tweak things here to make the system a bit better, but what I don’t like is this perception that somehow migrants are coming in here and sitting around and going on benefits. I’m sure there are some instances, but let’s face it, who drives your cabs? Who serves you at the supermarket counter? I don’t know about you but most of the immigrants that I come across are working in tough jobs, doing the jobs that a lot of kiwis don’t want to do frankly.

Petra Bagust: It is an interesting little can of worms and we’re talk about again to get back to us again if you have got feedback about this issue.


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