Migration after Covid-19 - NZIER Insight 89

07 July 2020

By Peter Wilson and Julie Fry

New Zealand has put up a ‘no entry’ sign. As well as stopping international tourism; we have turned off historically high rates of inward economic migration, forgoing what has been at best a small positive impact on GDP per capita. New Zealand closed the border in response to Covid-19 to prioritise the wellbeing of everyone here. We have a unique opportunity to think about what conditions should apply when the border reopens.

In this new Insight, NZIER Principal Economist Peter Wilson and NZIER Associate Julie Fry argue pre-Covid migration settings were not optimal. Long-running policy has been to respond to skill shortages by importing trained people rather than improving the skills of New Zealanders. We have increasingly given short-term visitors, like students and holidaymakers, broad work rights.

When we reopen the border, we should take the opportunity to do so under policy settings that will improve the wellbeing of both New Zealanders and migrants.

Three particular areas that should be examined, debated and resolved are:

  • setting migration policy so it respects the Crown’s Treaty obligations
  • the effect of migration on productivity, wages, and investment
  • the costs and benefits of increasing some extended family migration.