Immigration – Refugees Not Richlisters

Immigration is not the ‘issue’ – our government’s approach to it is. Over the past few decades our politicians in their wisdom have decided to apply the neoliberal trickle down theory to immigration. According to neoliberal theory, the ideal immigrants to New Zealand would be the wealthy.

So successive governments have gone to great lengths to encourage people with large sums of money to invest to come and live here. Their wealth was supposed to trickle down and provide jobs and income for the rest of us.

Governments have strictly limited the numbers of refugees, and restricted other immigrants to areas where there are ‘skills shortages’. Except that ‘skills shortages’ have often turned out to be very low paid temporary jobs in remote regions without affordable housing for workers. Ironically, immigration has been used to scupper their beloved ‘market forces’ that should have seen shortages of workers raise the wages and improve working conditions to make these jobs viable for New Zealand workers.

The morality of this approach is extremely suspect, but as it turns out, it did not make any economic sense for our country either. The wealthy seem to prefer investing in property over business start ups. Looking at the housing crisis and land and property prices in general, arguably New Zealand would have been in a much better position if it had concentrated on refugees rather than richlisters.

Refugees often start small businesses in their local communities, they buy modest properties to live in and run their businesses out of. Their children go to local schools. They enrich our communities by introducing us to different cultures, including foods. And they don’t all want to live in Auckland. The relationship is mutually beneficial.

At an individual level, good things happen when you are generous and not always looking to take advantage of people. The same is true at national level. Choosing people we think we can exploit for their wealth is ill advised. A mutual desire to exploit is never a great basis for a beneficial relationship – for either party. It usually results in a winner and a loser. Right now New Zealand is the loser.

Under neoliberalism, immigration has been used to open doors for the wealthy to roam the globe at will. And it has been used to hasten the race to the bottom for the majority of worker’s incomes worldwide.

But immigration is not about neoliberalism. It is about the common good. Surely it would be better to allow people to come here because, like most of us, they want a decent lifestyle for themselves and their families, rather than seek out people who just want to buy us.

Leave a Reply