Monday, April 24, 2006

Immigration I

No Right Turn has a good article commenting on the NZIS discussion document on changes to the Immigration Act, on which comments are currently being sought.

I thought I'd add some of my own thoughts, starting with Section I - Purpose & Principals.

They ask the following questions:
1 Do you agree with the suggested purpose of New Zealand’s immigration legislation?
2 Do you agree that New Zealand’s immigration-related interests are those suggested?
3 Should a purpose statement be included in the legislation?

To me, there is a philosophical objection which any immigration legislation has to address - such legislation is inherently discriminatory (Article 26 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights prohibits discrimination on grounds of nationality, although this is qualified elsewhere).

The argument for such legislation is that it is necessary to prevent uncontrolled and excessive migration from poor, unstable countries to wealthier and more stable states. It's worth noting in passing that the EU has had no controls on intra-union migration for over 25 years and that such migration has been relatively small - even though there are quite wide wealth disparities between, for instance, Portugal and Germany.

Assuming however, that we accept the principle that immigration controls are a pragmatic necessity, it seems to me that they should be constrained to the minimum required to prevent economic and social damage. The document lists the following interests that NZ has in maintaining immigration controls:
  1. maintaining the safety and security of New Zealand
  2. generating sustainable economic growth
  3. establishing strong communities
  4. fulfilling New Zealand’s role as a good international citizen, and
  5. promoting international cooperation.

I have no problem with 2, 4 and 5 as far as they go. Item 1 is slightly more problematic, since "safety and security" can be expanded to cover a multitude of evils. Indeed, the chosen examples lead straight away to a very broad interpretation of "safety": "ensuring that non-citizens are of good health" is cited as one restriction justified by this clause. The current measures affecting the health of immigrants are primarily concerned with avoiding cost to the health system (an economic ground) than restricting the transmission of infectious disease. Indeed, there are no controls on the health of returning citizens and residents, who would seem equally likely to have picked up something nasty overseas. I'd suggest this clause be replaced with the simpler "prevention of crimes and hostile acts".

Item 3 I fundamentally disagree with. I don't think the government should be engaging in "social engineering" to try and force the nation's development down a certain path. New Zealand appears set to remain a basically Anglo-Polynesian society - if it takes in other influences, then that is a Good Thing. I also don't believe in the idea that immigration by groups with different ideals (e.g. Muslims) will lead to the erosion of our tolerant society: firstly, I believe our instutions are (or should be) robust enough to resist such erosion; secondly, most immigrants move here because they actually *like* the way things are.

I would add a further item: "protecting the rights and interests of migrants". This would cover activities such as preventing the exploitation of migrant workers (and indeed students).

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