It is obvious that immigration is a political hot potato. It is also clear that it is going to continue to be blatantly used as an election tool for the forthcoming general election. Regrettably that means that sound immigration policy is likely to be compromised by short term political agendas and self-interest.
Because of our extraordinary circumstances in Christchurch over the past 6 years, we have relied very heavily on short term and permanent immigration, domestically and internationally. It has bolstered our workforce and materially assisted us to recreate our city. In just the last three years, we have had record migration which has significantly changed the cultural mix of Christchurch. It is important to note that at present, 70% of all inbound immigration in our region is not rebuild related. Most migrants are being utilized in the underlying fast-growing and diverse economies of Christchurch and Canterbury.
The just released Canterbury Development Corporation Economic Update demonstrates that our region needs five times the long-run average of historic inbound migration to meet employment and economic growth projections. Given that, putting a brake on international migration would seriously compromise our economies in the future. Our dependency on continuing strong levels of immigration across all sectors of our economy should not be underestimated.
Export education brings welcome overseas students into Christchurch and is an important part of our diverse economy. Not only do these students provide a significant economic contribution, but they also pave the way for high skilled permanent migrants to either stay in New Zealand, or come back after their education has concluded. The Colombo Plan of the 70’s, which attracted high caliber students from Malaysia, particularly to Lincoln University, is a very good example of that. That legacy lives on.
The unemployment rate in the City of Christchurch at present is 4.9%. Excluding Christchurch, the unemployment rate in wider Canterbury is 2.7%. An unemployment rate of 2.7% is too low to be sustainable in a growing economy. The key solution to this problem is robust domestic and international migration.
Migrants do not come to New Zealand, and to our region, at the expense of local employment opportunities. They come to New Zealand to earn, to spend, to contribute and to create opportunities, not stifle them. It is hard to believe that locals looking for jobs in our region cannot find them with an unemployment rate of 2.7%. It is also hard to accept that we can continue to grow our regional economy without the ongoing support of new migrants.
It is exciting to see Christchurch becoming an increasingly diverse, multi-cultural city with people of different nationalities coming to Christchurch, many because of the rebuild, and wanting to stay here to enjoy some of the finest lifestyle offerings available anywhere in the world.
A major driver of the political posturing around immigration, is driven by the obvious capacity constraints in Auckland. Christchurch and Canterbury should not get caught up in that problem. As a city, and as a region, we welcome international migrants and domestic migrants, including our friends from Auckland who are living in a stretched community with stretched resources. Here, we have all the fundamentals for good living, and plenty of capacity for others to join us. We have realistic house prices, an abundance new office accommodation, hospitality offerings second to none, and good infrastructure. We enjoy a city that is future focused and positioned in one of the most beautiful parts of the world.
Let’s take the politics out of the migration debate. We need stable, positive migration policies and strategies that will stimulate our economy, enrich our communities and satisfy our employment requirements. It will be a travesty if immigration as a political football, ends up resulting in an own goal.