In a volatile world where immigration has become a dangerous word, dragged in the midst of a fiery political debate, it must be hard being the Minister of Immigration.
But Michael Woodhouse, Immigration Minister, also Minister of ACC and Minister of Workplace Relation, says “it is the best job in the world”.
“Though it is quite complex,” he concedes as an afterthought.
Mr Woodhouse was in this patch at the behest of local MP Jami-Lee Ross who the minister refers to as “a bright young spark of the National party”.
After a closed door meeting with a group of local immigration agents and advisors at the office of Immigration Advice NZ at Harris Road on Friday, Mr Woodhouse talks to the Times
He says that meeting up with local immigration agents gave him some valuable inputs.
“There is nothing like hearing it first-hand from them,” he says at the office of immigration advisor Saif Shaikh and former Times columnist.
Talking about the current situation where racism is being (mis)used worldwide to fight
terrorism, he says: “In a restless world, New Zealand has been held as an exemplar in terms of a skilled based balanced immigration policy.
“It saddens me when xenophobes refer to migrants as “they” and blame them for the housing problem. Immigration is not the dominant issue when it comes to rising house prices. That is a different issue. Migrants are strong contributors to the economic and cultural growth of the country.”
However, there are times when he has to take a tough stand, more so when it comes to the much publicised case of deportation of Indian students.
Mr Woodhouse says the media has not told the whole story.
“We gave the students ample opportunity to leave voluntarily. Two have already done so. Also, six of the remaining seven have been awarded the qualification they came to NZ to study towards. So they have achieved what they came here for.”
Of the total 191 students served the Deportation Liability Notice or Deportation Orders, 125 have left New Zealand.
“Each case has been handled on its own merit. We wanted them to leave voluntarily and not force them so that they can go back to the country with dignity,” he says.
He believes the fault lies with fraudulent agents giving a wrong picture to the students.
“We are also working on expectation management. I worry that students are being told a story of education being a pathway to residency in the country.”
He says he has visited India and that Immigration New Zealand is working closely with partner agencies providing regular advice and information to education industry providers.
Mr Woodhouse also mentions that there has been a change in the skilled migrant category.
“We have worked on a higher skills visa and have raised the skilled based points from 140 to 160 points.
“We are working on a remuneration policy in terms of qualifying for residence. The announcement on skills is about to come,” he says.