Lincoln Tan is the New Zealand Herald’s diversity, ethnic affairs and immigration senior reporter.

Debt a worry for temporary migrants

Recent temporary migrants are commonly in the housing rental market and are concentrated in the CBD. Photo /Jason Oxenham.
Recent temporary migrants are commonly in the housing rental market and are concentrated in the CBD. Photo /Jason Oxenham.

Temporary migrants are not directly contributing to rising house prices and many would-be migrants are in debt, a University of Auckland study has found.

The report titled Temporary Migration and Urban Incorporation in Auckland found debt to be a considerable issue, with nearly one in three temporary migrants intending to apply for permanent residence in debt.

The research involved 891 people on temporary visas including 457 international students, 170 working holidaymakers and 158 work visa holders.

The extent of debt-financed migration is worse for those from two of New Zealand's top migrant source countries, with debt being an issue for 40 per cent of those from India and the Philippines.

"Contrary to media and public discourse, recent temporary migrants are almost universally in the housing rental market rather than purchasing property and are concentrated in the CBD more than any other area," said report author Francis Collins, a senior lecturer at the university's School of Environment.

More than 36 per cent lived in the central city, and nearly nine in 10, or 88.1 per cent, rented rather than owned their place of residence, according to the report.

Only 17 of them were owner-occupiers and temporary migrants were "not directly involved in house price appreciation".

Dr Collins said most people on temporary visas financed their migration through savings, and there appeared to be correlations between levels of debt and plans to remain in New Zealand long-term through permanent residence.

Respondents from India and the Philippines represented a majority of those who identified as being in debt as a result of migration, but were also much more likely than other nationalities to be intending to apply for residency.

"These debt patterns are important because they can generate vulnerability amongst migrants and influence their pathways to incorporation in Auckland and New Zealand," Dr Collins said.

There was a mismatch between expectations for permanent residence, created in part by current policy settings, and the actual rates of transition, the study found.

One in five temporary migrants reported as being paid below the minimum wage or to working more hours than they were paid for.

More than half of all students in the research were employed, and about half reported working the maximum 20 hours allowed under their visa conditions.

Four in 10 were employed in accommodation and food service, or retail trade.

"[This] points to the reality that students also rely on employment to get by, a characteristic supported by evidence of debt levels among some students," the report said.

The study concluded that New Zealand needed a "more humane and less revenue-centred approach" to migration to address these emerging issues.

Immigration New Zealand issues more than 250,000 temporary work and study visas a year.

"A greater emphasis on the well-being of migrants in immigration policy is needed," it said.

"This would appear to be particularly the case in relation to international students where policy seems to be focused primarily on maximising student numbers and revenue and less on the situations or expectation of students themselves."

- NZ Herald

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