Unlike many countries, Western nations generally have the necessary resources to control the inward migration of foreign citizens. Judicious use of this power makes it possible to maintain social order and high standards of living. Immigration is still encouraged however, but is limited to individuals who meet certain criteria. Although large-scale immigration is consistently opposed by a majority of the public, political parties with policies to further limit immigration beyond the status quo are considered extreme and usually do not get enough votes to have any meaningful power.
New Zealand is often described as being founded on immigration. After discovery of the country by the British, the resident Maori people were displaced by mass migration of British and other European settlers. Immigration from this source continued into the 20th century, while a new wave of Polynesian immigration occurred after the Second World War. This has been followed in more recent times by the opening up of the country to immigration from countries like China, India and the Philippines.
High recent immigration levels have ensured our population continues to grow rapidly despite a falling birth rate which is now only just over replacement level of 2.0 births per woman. The extent of this immigration is simply astonishing: In 2013, 25 per cent of all New Zealanders were born overseas, including 40 per cent of all people living in Auckland.
It should come as no surprise then that Auckland is now bursting at the seams. Property prices and rents are sky high, traffic jams are worse than ever, schools and hospitals are overflowing. Competition for jobs and accommodation is intense.
* Net migration hits record level for 17th consecutive month
* Migration tops 60,000 for the first time
* Govt relaxes immigration rules to help Chch rebuild
The response from the government to these issues revolves around increasing supply to meet the market – more houses, more roads, more amenities. The more people we have, the more tax is paid, the more money our businesses make, the higher our GDP, the larger the economies of scale, the greater our influence in the world. Always, the question asked is how can we accommodate all these extra people, rather than should we accommodate them. It is simply taken for granted that more people coming in is a good thing, at least financially.
But in fact economists do not necessarily agree that bringing in more people is a good thing - the economic effect of immigration is notoriously difficult to assess, but a relatively authoritative recent study on OECD countries concluded that the overall fiscal impact of immigration over the past 50 years was close to zero. Immigrants work and pay taxes, but these are largely cancelled out by the benefits they receive such as healthcare and superannuation. It is however widely acknowledged that immigration suppresses wage growth.
Neither do the public agree that importing more people is a good thing. In polls conducted by TV stations in May 2014, around 60% of people supported more restrictions on immigration – a majority, and a surprisingly high one given that 25% of New Zealanders are immigrants themselves.
The public is opposed to immigration for a variety of reasons. People naturally feel uncomfortable when they find themselves increasingly surrounded by people who look different and speak a different language. Often there is concern about competition for jobs or houses, and a perception that many immigrants do not integrate into our society or share the same values that New Zealanders hold. These concerns are valid and entirely reasonable, but tend to be casually dismissed as xenophobia, particularly by those who do benefit from immigration.
I strongly believe that the current level of immigration is not making New Zealand a more pleasant place to live in. If indeed there are economic gains, they are overwhelmingly negated by the social and environmental costs. Our environment is finite. Every extra person is another burden to be supported using our finite resources. Our population density may yet be small in comparison to certain other countries, but this is one of the biggest attractions of life in NZ and is something we should surely be striving to preserve. If we desire our children and grandchildren to enjoy the lifestyle that we once enjoyed ourselves as children, we should seek to impose further restrictions on immigration as soon as possible.
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