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Book Review | BWB Texts
Fair Borders? Migration Policy in the Twenty-First Century,
edited by David Hall (BWB Texts, paper $14.99; e-book $4.99)
Reviewed by Judith Morrell Nathan

fairborders-001This is a thought-provoking, timely collection of essays by a diverse range of New Zealanders, most of whom are academics here or abroad.  Their varied perspectives, political, economic, social and cultural are all loosely connected to the theme of fairness.

In his introductory essay, David Hall from AUT analyses the concept of fairness and questions how genuine the supposed impacts of immigration on housing, employment, infrastructure and social welfare are.

Tahu Kukutai and Arama Rata, both from the National Institute of Demographic and Economic Analysis at the University of Waikato, consider issues from a Maori perspective which they point out has been ignored in the immigration debate.  They consider the relationship between today’s immigration and the mass immigrations of  nineteenth-century colonisation which swamped the tangata whenua.  New citizens are required to pledge allegiance to the Queen but what about to the Treaty of Waitangi? Kate Macmillan, from Victoria University Politics department, acknowledges there are inherent contradictions between what is fair to the would-be arrivals and to those already here. New Zealand has one of the world’s most liberal regimes with regard to voting rights, introduced in 1975 when most immigrants were from Britain.  In 2015-16 the largest number of migrants came from India and China, (then UK and the Philippines).  Immigrants with the right of residence can vote here after one year – which exemplifies the principle of no taxation without representation, but is it fair to our citizens to give such recent arrivals a say in how our country is run?

Francis Collins, a geographer from the University of Auckland, points out migrants on work visas form about 5% of our total workforce.  Is this too high?  They are predominantly in six industries: agriculture, construction, tourism, food service, health and elder care, and truck driving. The number of migrants obtaining residency has remained at about 40-50,000 per year over the last 20 years, while the number granted temporary work visas has increased from about 30,000 to almost 200,000 per year.  There are increasing cases of exploitation and abuse, including racism. In the infamous “dawn raids” on overstayers, 86% of those prosecuted were Pasifika though only about 1/3 of overstayers were Pasifika.

Hautahi Kingi, an economist now based in Washington DC, calls New Zealand a “poster child” for its Recognised Seasonal Workers scheme, launched in 2007 as a form of foreign aid to specified Pacific countries – migrants gain funds to take home while we gain their labour.  He argues the impact on employment is debatable: He concedes it has had an impact on locals in some industries that must be a cause of concern; and he notes that skilled migrants are less disruptive to the labour market than unskilled.

Evelyn Masters, who has a PhD in Development Studies, gives a very different, very personal perspective.  The daughter of a Pakeha mother and a Cook Island father, she was raised in a white world and constantly had to explain her appearance.  She was often asked where she was from and not accepted as a New Zealander, despite being born here.

Andrew Chen a PhD candidate of Taiwanese descent at the University of Auckland, criticises people’s stereotypes and assumptions as to what constitutes a New Zealander. Birth? Length of time in New Zealand? How well they speak English?  It is hard to measure what  impact immigrants have on our infrastructure as net migration figures reflect a drop in the number of people leaving (by 50% between 2012 and 2016)  and an increase in New Zealanders returning, as well as an increase in new immigrants.  Our current population growth is between 0.8 and 1.5% p.a.— lower than Australia. Since the global economic crisis of 2008, our unemployment rate has been falling while numbers of migrants on work permits have been increasing.

Nina Hall, now at the Hertie School of Governance in Berlin, debates whether there is such a being as a climate refugee and whether it is fair to treat them as a distinct group, concluding we should be more generous to all vulnerable people, not single out one category.

Murdoch Stephens of Massey University started the Doing our Bit campaign in 2013 to lobby for New Zealand to double our refugee quota.  Scandinavian countries accept 20 times as many refugees per capita as we do and Lebanon accepts over 200 refugees per 1000 of its population while we take 0.3 per 1000 and are ranked 90th in the world.  Even Australia, whose attitude to boat people many of us criticise, accepts three times as many refugees per capita as we do.

The diverse perspectives in this book draw attention to the complexities of immigration.  While some chapters are not easy to digest, I certainly learned a lot about the potential positive and negative impact on both immigrants and residents.  These essays make a valuable contribution to the current political debate.