The “Open-Door” Immigration Policy in New Zealand

The conditions under which new PRC migrants arrive at New Zealand now are remarkably different from those encountered by early Chinese migrants. New PRC migrants to New Zealand meet a largely favorable social and political environment. The Immigration Policy Review 1986 introduced an open immigration policy to welcome immigrants with financial and human capital. This review and its implementation (in the Immigration Act of 1987) was part of the Fourth Labour government’s efforts to embark on a radical path of economic deregulation to revitalize the economy (Trlin 1992).3 Immigration was encouraged, especially by skilled and business migrants with “ability and investment capital” who could contribute to the process of “economic restructuring and ... the development of new competitive industries and markets” (Burke 1986: 19). Immigration was seen as a positive means of attracting foreign investment and stimulating domestic growth. The new policy sought to use immigration to remedy the “brain-drain” (owing to the out-migration of educated New Zealanders) (Henderson 2003: 143; Kasper 1990). There was also a desire to use immigration to link up with Pacific Rim countries and the “Asian Little Dragons” (Henderson 2003: 143; Ip 1995: 188; Trlin and Kang 1992: 49).4 Seeing a competitive global economy that was increasingly influenced by Asian industrial production and markets, New Zealand realized the importance of integrating more closely with Asia. To establish business links, human capital is essential. The new policy in New Zealand was a way of acquiring human capital (Trlin 1992).

When the National government came to power in the 1990s, it maintained the previous Labour government’s program of economic deregulation and accentuated it by encouraging immigration. In line with countries such as Canada and Australia, a points-based system was introduced in 1991 (Trlin 1997).5 This had a big impact on the number and composition of new Chinese immigrants arriving in New Zealand, where the Chinese presence grew ever stronger. Of the three main sources, Hong Kong was the earliest and peaked in 1991. It was followed by Taiwan, which peaked in 1996. Migrant totals from China started to catch up with Hong Kong and Taiwan after the 1991 policy change and then increased steadily (see Fig. 11.2).

This sudden influx caused unease and put pressure on New Zealand’s immigration system. The immigration policy was tightened up and more challenging criteria for entry were introduced.6 This tightening-up in 1995, together with the 1997 Asian financial crisis, reduced the number of Hong Kong and Taiwan immigration approvals. However, it had little effect on immigrants arriving from the PRC (Henderson 2003; Liu 2014): applications steadily increased during the following years.

The new Labour government, which returned to power in 1999, was determined to open the door even wider. With a series of policy adjustments and the introduction of a managed entry regime between 2000 and 2002, PRC migrant numbers increased, peaking in 2003 (see Fig. 11.2).7 Since then the PRC has become a dominant source country.

The latest immigration policy change in New Zealand was a new selection system, introduced in 2003.8 This focuses on ensuring that migrants with skills are needed rather than merely accepting those who meet a specific target. The minister of immigration announced a new Skilled Migrant Category (SMC) to replace the General Skills Category (GSC). The new SMC shifted the way the points system worked from passive acceptance to active selection. It replaced the “pass” mark system with a process in which people who qualify above a certain level of points submit an expression of interest (EOI) to a selection pool, from which they are then invited to apply. The system came about in a context in which successful settlement outcomes of migrants were recognized by the government as more important than numerical and economic outcomes (Bedford et al. 2005). Approvals

Annual New Zealand residence approval number for people from the PRC, Hong Kong and Taiwan, 1982-2008

Fig. 11.2 Annual New Zealand residence approval number for people from the PRC, Hong Kong and Taiwan, 1982-2008

for applicants from China fell for a while but started to climb back in 2005 (see Fig. 11.2), though they have not returned to their highest level, which was achieved at the beginning of the new millennium.

The presence of new PRC migrants in New Zealand is a direct result of the “open-door” immigration policy introduced in 1987. The immigration door swung to and fro as a result of unstable and fluctuating entry criteria over the years. However, the overall policy of encouraging skilled and business immigration was consistently maintained. It is under this policy that new Chinese migrants have arrived and settled in New Zealand.

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