Future New Zealand: New Zealand in the Age of Hypermobility

While there have been some rumblings about the impact on house prices, New Zealand has so far escaped the issues faced by other countries with large influxes of people coming across their borders
Professor Paul Spoonley is the Pro Vice-Chancellor of Humanities and Social Sciences at Massey University.
Professor Paul Spoonley is the Pro Vice-Chancellor of Humanities and Social Sciences at Massey University.

Since emerging from the global financial crises, New Zealand has experienced historic highs in the number of people visiting, working or settling here. The statistics for the most recent 12 months indicate that more than 120,000 people settled in New Zealand permanently.

The numbers need to be treated with caution as they include returning Kiwis and international students. Some students do settle in New Zealand (about 20 per cent), but the rest return to their country of origin once they have finished their study.

Alongside the arrivals who are labeled "permanent" are the temporary visitors and workers who now number more than 200,000 per year. They can be found working in restaurants in Queenstown, picking apples in Hawke's Bay or providing labour on dairy farms in Southland. And then there are the annual visitor numbers, which are tracking towards 3.5 million.

The recent global increase in the flow of people and the fact that by 2010, 214 million lived outside their country of origin (up from 191 million five years earlier) is seen as increasing the security threat to sovereign countries.

The presidential campaign in the United States and the debate about Brexit provide examples of the anxiety associated with this hypermobility.

Is New Zealand an exception to these politics? Or should we be more concerned? On one level, the answer is an absolute "yes".

The rise of international terrorism needs to be takenseriously - New Zealand might be a long way from many of the key targets or sites of terrorism but our systems need to monitor the movement of people and to identify those who would threaten our security.

New Zealand has one advantage - it does not share borders with a major land mass and can monitor arrivals and departures. But given the numbers crossing that border, it is absolutely essential that systems are effective.

It is also important to remember security is not confined to border control, especially if we define security as including the internal operations of a country and relations between and within its communities. The marginalisation and radicalisation of local ethnic and immigrant communities should be a concern.

New Zealand operates a different system of immigrant recruitment and selection compared to most other OECD countries. Like Canada and Australia, it is a pick-and-choose system that seeks to align approval with on-shore demand, especially from employers and industry.

The result is that those approved for permanent residence typically have a higher educational and skills set than the average New Zealander. They are able to purchase relatively expensive houses (which does contribute to housing demand) in areas that are zoned for high decile schools.

New Zealand operates a different system of immigrant recruitment and selection compared to most other OECD countries.

We do have ethno-burbs (suburbs that have high concentrations of members of particular minority ethnic communities), but they are typically in high socio-economic areas. The incidence of educational and employment disadvantage and poor housing, underscored by poverty, is not a typical story for most immigrants to New Zealand.

If that was to change, then the possibilities for political activism and radicalisation would increase significantly.

On most criteria, the degree of social cohesion in New Zealand is relatively high and attitudes towards immigrants are generally positive. The Asia New Zealand Foundation annual survey indicates that while there are some matters that cause anxiety (for example, a tendency of immigrants to "stick together"), positive attitudes are generally more common than negative ones.

There are instances of racism and discrimination but these are often modest when compared to what has been happening in many European countries. Immigration is a political issue but not to the extent that is common in many liberal democracies.

So while the movement of people across New Zealand's borders, both temporarily and permanently, has been at levels never before seen - by some margin - for the moment at least there is little to suggest that systems and communities are under threat.

- NZ Herald

Distinguished Professor Paul Spoonley is the Pro Vice-Chancellor of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences at Massey University and is a lead investigator on the Capturing the Diversity Dividend of Aotearoa New Zealand research programme funded by MBIE.

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