Immigration is unquestionably adding value as well as population to New Zealand. Migrants, being disproportionately of working age, contribute more in taxation than they cost the country in additional state services.

Nevertheless, research has suggested immigration is not lifting the level of skills in the workforce as high as it ought to be by comparison with other countries that attract skilled migrants. The changes announced by the Government yesterday are clearly a response to that concern.

The most striking change is that remuneration being offered to applicants in the skilled migrant category will be crucial to their acceptance.

They will not qualify for residence unless the job is paying at least the New Zealand median income, currently $48,859 a year.


That will ensure all skilled migrants are in the top half of income earners and that any employer who is offering a low wage to migrant workers will need to start recruiting from the local workforce.

To reinforce the thrust for higher skills, the Government is awarding more qualifying points for skilled work experience and post graduate qualifications.

It is weighting the age preference more heavily in favour of applicants in their 30s. At the same time points will no longer be given just for a qualification that is in short supply in New Zealand or for employment, work experience and qualifications in a field identified as a future growth area. Having close family here will not count either.

So it is clear that to gain residence, a skilled worker will need to have a real job with an income at or above the national median. Qualifications alone will not be enough.

Those who apply for residence with a job that is not classed as skilled will need to be receiving at least 1.5 times the median income ($73,299 a year) to be accepted.

Announcing these changes in Queenstown yesterday, Immigration Minister Michael Woodhouse noted that net immigration has not increased since last year when the points threshold for residence was raised, English language requirements were toughened and the parent qualification suspended.

He expected the latest restrictions to raise the quality of skills without further reducing the number of new residents in the skilled category, but that would seem difficult to predict.

Skilled migration has been declining as total migration has risen in recent years. The growth has been in the temporary categories of working holidays and international students, who now have a limited right to employment.


These are categories that probably answer the country's labour shortages in low skilled and seasonal work such as horticulture and hospitality, and give rise to the claim immigrants are taking jobs that Kiwis could do.

The Government still refuses to reduce working holiday permits, because they reciprocate young Kiwis' ability to work abroad, and student visas because education has become a valuable "export".

But raising the bar to skilled permanent migrants yet again without restricting temporary entrants, will further lower the overall level of skills migration is bringing here.