The latest figures show that net immigration into New Zealand was 71,932 for the year to 31st March 2017. This is roughly three times higher, per head of population, than currently for the UK. It is a huge political issue in the UK, but much less so in New Zealand. The issues are eerily familiar to one used to the debate in the UK.
On the one hand immigration places pressure on; housing, roads, schooling, healthcare. It is also widely believed to keep wages down for unskilled labour.
On the other hand migrant labour is regarded as essential for the construction, agricultural and hospitality industries. And, of course, migrants do raise GDP and increase the tax base.
These figures come from arrivals cards, which is somewhat better than the UK questionnaire sample approach. However, it still requires the person entering the country to honestly declare the intended length of their stay.
A major factor here is the strength of the NZ economy relative to its neighbours. And the net figure is boosted by a lower Kiwi net immigration figure (“returning Kiwis”).
The biggest single source of immigrants is Australia, with which NZ virtually has a “free movement” agreement. So NZ is struggling with an economy that is strong relative to a larger near neighbour, in a way that is strikingly similar to the UK and the EU. Foreign students at NZ universities are also a significant factor, again just as in the UK.
There is a difference with the UK in terms of cultural assimilation, as the immigrants are overwhelmingly Eurasian or pacific islanders, coming into an overwhelmingly Eurasian and Maori population. Any problems in New Zealand are minor compared to those in the UK, where a significant proportion of the immigrants come from a significantly different cultural background, and may not even speak English.
So, New Zealand is faced with a very similar problem to the UK. Just as well that this is not a major political hot potato here; as there is no appetite to restrict the movement of people from Australia, or to prevent Kiwis from returning home! Current proposals tinker with the NZ points based immigration system, whilst everyone waits for the Australian economy to pick up. If only there was a realistic prospect of the EU economy picking up in a significant, sustained way.