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Last December the immigration law was dramatically changed. The reason was simple: the previous law was not only passive and defensive but had failed to attract the sort of people New Zealand wants.
The new law was accompanied by the paradoxical statement that to create an active inflow of skilled migrants, an invitation-only immigration scheme was inevitable.
A points table was constructed to obtain the necessary skilled migrants. On top of that, the English language requirement had also been raised from an International English Language Testing System (IELTS) level of 5 to 6.5. The resulting system is neither logical nor rational.
Under the invitation-only scheme, the intended selection point started with an imposing 195 points.
This gave the impression that New Zealand was a supreme nation. But the fact is that it is not the only place in the world to which skilled people can look to migrate.
Potential immigrants think also about the United States, Australia and even Canada. New Zealand is neither different nor superior to any of them. It is just one of the options for migrants. And because the immigration law is now so difficult many potential immigrants are beginning to consider, and choose, countries other than New Zealand.
Thus, the 195-point criterion has started to fall rapidly. Finally, it dropped to an intended point of 100 on September 1. It needs to be asked, however, whether that level will deliver skilled migrants.
Such people will acquire relatively high points in the categories of skilled employment, relevant work experience, qualifications and age. Yet gaining a total of 100 is reasonably simple.
For example, if a student has obtained a degree in England, 50 points are granted. If the student is under 30, that is another 30 points. If the student has a job offer, that is a further 50 points - and a total of 130 points.
Is it wrong to say that there is a problem with a person passing the selection point of 100 without any work experience? Does this student really represent, and qualify as, a skilled migrant?
Following the same logic, there are millions of people in Japan, Korea and China who could be granted a score of more than 100 points. Regardless of this, the reality is that they do not qualify for the skilled migrant category because they do not hold the required English language requirement.
How illogical is this? If this was going to be the case when the Government revised the law, it should not have made out the change was to do with skill. It should have been honest and said the new policy aimed to attract university graduates who were fluent, if not native, speakers of English but who were not necessarily skilful or possessing work experience. A confused Asian community would have understood that.
The matter can no longer be disguised as immigration policy. In practice, it is a form of discrimination against Asians. Even if this was not the direct intention of the Government, the new law's outcome places it in the area of racial policy.
What has happened is a big increase in the number of skilled migrants from English-speaking nations - such as England, South Africa, Singapore and Ireland - and a decrease in the number of Asians. From the statistical evidence, can the Government deny that the implementation of the English language requirement does not make its immigration policy discriminatory?
It has been almost two years since the English language requirement was raised from an IELTS level of 5 to 6.5. Can the Government now provide objective evidence that people with a 6.5 level successfully adapt to life in New Zealand? Or will it be able to show that people with a level of 5 failed to adapt to life and society here?
Does the Government really judge that previous Asian immigrants, most who came into the nation with a level of 5, have been unsuccessful in settling here? The simple logic of a level of 6.5 being essential to adapt is just an excuse to isolate the Asian community, and an excuse for camouflaging the issue of racial discrimination.
Many people who have migrated here under the previous English language requirement score of 5 have settled very successfully. In truth, a score of 6.5 would be difficult for some native English speakers. It would be interesting to find out if all bureaucrats would meet that language requirement.
Would it not be more appropriate for the Government to use an average IELTS score of local citizens obtained through a sampling method, rather than just dictating a score of 6.5? Within the sampled population, citizenship holders, work visa holders and permanent resident visa holders, who would not necessarily be New Zealanders, should be included. That way we would be able to objectively evaluate the true English language requirement of the country, as represented by its residents.
Immigration policy must be logical and rational. What is more, it must show consistency. Immigration law is like a promise made with the international society. Only New Zealand changes its law without even a single day's notice.
The English language requirement must be lowered to save the purpose, and the meaning, of the skilled migration system. After all, a person with an IELTS score of 5 and a points total of 140 is surely far more a skilled migrant than a person with an IELTS score of 6.5 and a points total of 100.
* Jeff Shin is the managing director of the International Academy Consortium New Zealand Ltd.