Immigration policy is a hot topic again in the coming election but I hope that it doesn't disintegrate into accusations of racism. Immigration is an important part of New Zealand's growth due to our slow local population growth and the small population we had to start with.

There is always a glaring gap in discussions about immigration policies. The immigrants - families, employees, students, human beings, people like myself - can attest to whether or not the policies that have governed our lives for years, even decades, are good, bad, or ugly.

Immigration is fundamentally an economic policy for New Zealand. But at times it feels we want it to be the silver bullet for all our social ills, even making up for what Bill English claimed, without evidence, to be a drug epidemic among local job seekers.

When my family came to New Zealand in the mid-90s my parents were on work permits and my sister and I were on student visas. Luckily for us, around that time we were able to study at primary, intermediate and high school on student visas with relatively low fees compared to recent immigrants who have to pay five-digit figures to get in the door.


My father was a qualified dental technician who created dentures and dental plates, a profession that is high on technical skills and relies less on English language and cultural understanding.

However, he couldn't practice his trade in New Zealand. Even if he had permanent residency he wouldn't have been able to get a job as a dental technician despite the profession being one of the occupations on the skills shortage list at the time.

Many immigrants experienced this disconnect between the immigration policy and the employment environment.

The immigration policy told them their skills and professions made them desirable and employable in New Zealand, yet upon arrival the employers told them they needed New Zealand qualifications and New Zealand experience.

Employment is an important part of social integration and I can't stress that enough.

Immigration policy asks immigrants to contribute to society. "Contribution" is a word bandied about a lot in immigration policy discussions, but what it actually means isn't clear to me.

What I also want to question is how favourable the social and economic environment is in allowing and promoting contributions?

I notice our current immigrant policy includes an expectation that immigrants will bring jobs with them. Jobs? Isn't it a bit much to expect an individual immigrant or family to create jobs? Wouldn't it make more sense to expect businesses or corporations to bring jobs?


Nonetheless, I think immigrants do bring jobs, but indirectly, by forming a population that makes the New Zealand market big enough for global corporations like Topshop, Zara and H&M to enter.

To my mind, our immigration policy needs to go back to being skills and family focused. While the current, investment focused immigration policy has managed to keep our economy afloat at a steady rate for the past eight years, we've had such huge population growth that infrastructure and resources, particularly in Auckland, are stretched.

When people are stressed it's easy to blame and become resentful.

My family got permanent residency in the end through Labour's October Transition Policy, which allowed people who arrived in New Zealand before 1999 and settled successfully, to acquire residency, and I am eternally grateful we were able to do so.

The policy is an example of an immigration programme that was humane and recognised the reality of the social and economic difficulties faced by immigrants.

My wish for change in immigrant policy is twofold: to return to skills and family-based immigration, and better integration of immigration and employment policy so that immigrants can actually contribute with the best of what they've brought with them.