From March, visa applicants from Hong Kong who are keen to visit New Zealand will have to apply through the country’s immigration website instead of its office near Victoria Park. The branch is the first of six offshore offices that will be shut as the New Zealand government streamlines visa processing by moving applications online.
Another five closures – in Ho Chi Minh, Moscow, Jakarta, Shanghai and New Delhi – will follow this year. Offices in six other cities, including Bangkok, Washington and London, will also cease their visa-processing services, cutting New Zealand’s number of offshore centres from 17 to just five over the next two years. Only two large overseas offices will remain, in Beijing and Mumbai, where New Zealand receives most of its international student intake.
While the closures have been advertised as an economical decision, cutting out the human factor may scare off those who are less tech-savvy or face a language barrier. The reduced presence overseas might not be a great diplomatic move but it is in line with the closed-door policy that has continued from the previous administration’s “Kiwi-first” approach. (Income thresholds for skilled visas were raised last year.)
Prime minister Jacinda Ardern has taken a tough stance on immigration, including her proposal to trim the number of visas by up to 30,000 each year. Her election campaign, which leveraged anti-immigration sentiments following New Zealand’s housing crunch and plateauing wages, even drew comparisons with Donald Trump.
For skilled workers hoping to make a home in New Zealand need not worry. “As the election campaign unwound, [the Labour party] discovered that they were getting strong reactions from some employers and industries who are reliant on immigrant labour,” says migration expert professor Paul Spoonley of Massey University. “[The closures] will help the government’s plans to reduce the numbers and make sure we’re focused on getting skilled migrants that are needed. They will have much more control – and one way of doing that is to centralise the scrutiny of the approval process.”
Last year Finland began experimenting with a universal basic income. But now the government is proposing to slash benefits for those not actively trying to find work by learning new skills or accepting jobs below their skill level. Officials say that Finland needs more people in jobs. The proposal has been met with a backlash and more than 135,000 have signed a petition, forcing parliament to reconsider. “The problem is that there aren’t enough employment opportunities for all,” says Simo Aho, a researcher at Tampere University’s Work Research Centre.
As China’s Belt and Road Initiative considers new geographic corridors, Nigeria and China’s trade volume hit a record €7.2bn in 2017. Trade minister Okechukwu Enyinna Enelamah, a former private-equity financier, discusses the growing relationship.
How significant is China to Nigeria’s economic growth?
One of our most important priorities for diversification and industrialisation is infrastructure. Such investments will require partners. China happens to be pursuing a strategy to invest in infrastructure to grow its own economy. One could argue that China is not doing this for altruistic reasons but that is fine because the focus is less on aid and more on trade. We believe in win-win partnerships and that is certainly the approach we are taking as a country.
What concerns you about Sino relations in Nigeria?
China wants to invest in infrastructure and provides value for money; Europe and the West may not be in the same position. People have all kinds of concerns about foreign trade and the motivations [behind it]. You could start with the West, from concerns about colonialism to concerns about being out-smarted in the negotiation process. The same thing applies to China. It is a case of buyer beware.
What steps have been taken to diversify the sources of trade?
Nigeria has concluded bi-national commission meetings with the US. We are strengthening our relationship with the EU. We want to foster an enabling environment for businesses, our citizens and investors. In the 2018 Doing Business rankings the World Bank moved us up 24 places.