Why NZ needs more immigrants in recessionary times

There are some sectors calling out for a reduction in the number of immigrants to New Zealand as the economy slows down and jobs become more scarce. This will intensify in coming months as the unemployment rate creeps up. Unions and out-of-work locals will no doubt pressure government to tighten immigration policy. We may see an increase in protectionist measures; more funding for Buy New Zealand made and government bailouts of uncompetitive firms.

In my view, this would be the worst possible response to an already dire situation.

I came across an interesting article in the New York Times by the author of “The World is Flat”, Thomas Friedman a few days ago. He says

If there is one thing we know for absolute certain, it’s this: Protectionism did not cause the Great Depression, but it sure helped to make it “Great.” From 1929 to 1934, world trade plunged by more than 60 percent — and we were all worse off.

Immigrants to New Zealand work the hardest, get paid the least and put their hard-earned money to good use: investing in local businesses and saving for their children's education. Immigrants are less likely to splurge on non-value-adding plasma TVs and imported Italian designer furniture.

Immigrants, by their very nature, tend to be ambitious and enterprising. Why else would they travel thousands of kilometres to a distant land, far away from their families, to start over?

More than half of Silicon Valley start-ups were founded by immigrants over the last decade. These

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immigrant-founded tech companies employed 450,000 workers and had sales of $52 bill

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ion in 2005, according to research by Vivek Wadhwa,  in an essay published this week on BusinessWeek.com.

The fear that many ordinary Kiwis have is that immigrants will steal their jobs because they are willing to work for next to nothing. Even if this was true (which it is not), so what? We all need to wake up to the new reality. We cannot afford to rest on our laurels and become increasingly less competitive on a global scale. We need smart, resourceful, connected and hard working immigrants in New Zealand. Current immigration policy does not give much scope for low-quality immigrants to enter New Zealand in any case.

The other myth is that immigrants make no economic contribution to New Zealand. Recent studies show the net impact for having an immigrant here is $3.29 billion, or $3547 per capita, while the net per capita contribution of a New Zealand-born is just $915. Immigrants are 4 times more valuable than locals.

Immigrants are willing to work harder and not mind getting paid less. Is that such a bad thing? Are we crying exploitation because we are genuinely concerned for the welfare of immigrants or simply because we don't want anyone to rock the cushy boat?

Smart, ambitious and hardworking immigrants are good for this country. Having more such immigrants in New Zealand would increase not just the number but quality of jobs, resulting in a more prosperous nation in more ways than one.

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About The Author

Kenneth is Director of Euroasia. He is passionate about languages and cultures.