By Todd Muller
New Zealand continues to be an attractive place to visit, work and live. More Kiwis are coming home, fewer are leaving, and more people from around the world want to come here. That's a credit to our international reputation, and it reflects our strong and growing economy. We've seen a significant turnaround in net migration from a net outflow of around 4100 in the year to February 2012, to a net inflow of 71,300 in the year to February 2017.
The main drivers of that turnaround are more Kiwis coming home (9000) and fewer leaving (28,000) – making up around half of that change. We are also seeing 21,000 additional Working Holiday Visa holders coming here each year, 7000 more international students, and 3000 more Australians crossing the ditch. We can't - and don't want to - stop Kiwis from returning home. And reducing the number of working holiday makers could jeopardise opportunities for New Zealanders wanting to travel or study abroad.
However, there are other areas of immigration that we can and do actively control. But it's not as simple as turning off the immigration tap – it's about making sure we get the balance right. The National-led government is regularly reviewing our immigration settings to ensure we have the right number and skill mix of people coming into the country to keep our economy moving. We have a Kiwis-first approach to our immigration settings. But, where there is a genuine skill or labour shortage, we want out businesses to be able to access migrant labour to fill those jobs.
Yesterday the government announced a package of changes designed to better manage immigration and ensure the quality and quantity of migrants remains appropriate. These changes include introducing remuneration thresholds for both permanent and temporary skilled migrants to ensure we are attracting migrants who will bring the most economic benefits to New Zealand. The first remuneration threshold will be set at $48,859 a year and applicants who earn below that threshold will have no pathway to residence. The second threshold will be set at $73,299 and applicants will automatically be considered as high-skilled.
We are making changes to Essential Skills work visas to reinforce the temporary nature of work visas and to help manage the number and settlement expectations of new migrants. We also recently reviewed the New Zealand Residence programme to moderate the increasing numbers of migrants applying for residence.
These changes demonstrate that the government is taking a responsible, pragmatic approach to managing immigration.