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Who's moving in next door?

New Zealand needs immigrants, but applicants find the selection processes and criteria anything but straightforward.

Here's a story of modern New Zealand immigration.

Robyn and Rumishael Masanga met in Tanzania in 2003. Robyn is a New Zealander, born here after her parents emigrated from South Africa. In 2003, she was working in Tanzania as a volunteer teacher in a mission school. Rumi was an HIV-AIDS educator.

Back in New Zealand, Robyn's sister was about to marry. Robyn planned to come back for the wedding and naturally the family wanted her fiancé to come, too. They applied to the New Zealand Immigration Service's South African office - the closest - for a tourist visa for Rumi. It was declined.

"They seemed determined not to let him in," says Robyn. "The woman we were dealing with kept creating hoops, we kept jumping through them, she created more. She thought he'd become an overstayer. And she had absolute power."

It's not that New Zealand doesn't want Africans. Richard Bedford from Waikato University's Migration Research Group calculates that they're our fourth biggest immigrant group, even ahead of Australians. But most of them, he says, are white, mainly from South Africa.

Rumi was eventually allowed in on a bonded visa; that is, the immigration authorities required money to ensure he abides by the rules.

He now works for the AIDS Foundation in Auckland and Robyn teaches at a secondary school. They're what the government says it wants: good, hard-working people who contribute to the country's economy and diversity. To be fair, their dealings with the Immigration Service here have since run smoothly. Rumi obtained a work permit and is applying for permanent residence.

"I love it here," he says. "I fit in well." But the irony comes when he's asked if he will stay. "I feel responsible for my people. I'll stay for a few years. Not more than 10."

Fickle?

No, typical.

United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan has talked of a "new era of mobility". Around the world, people - workers - are shuffling countries. A new paper by Bedford and fellow researcher Elsie Ho declares that "at no other time in the past century has there been such intense and focused global interest in inter-national migration". New Zealand, they say, competes with Australia, Canada and the United States for skilled labour; and often comes fourth. As the Chinese economy mushrooms it's attracting back its former emigrants - especially from New Zealand, Canada and Australia.

One feature of the new immigration is this: we think we're getting our new citizens for keeps.

But we're not.

New Zealand has the highest per capita rate of both immigration and emigration in the OECD. Bedford and Ho point out that almost a third of the permanent and long-term departures in the year to March were not New Zealand citizens. They were citizens of other countries who had been here at least a year, often skilled migrants whose home was no longer just one country.

Nor were they necessarily going home or to any other country for ever. The researchers quote a recent study of migrants approved for permanent residence here over seven years. It showed that some of them kept shuttling back and forth, maintaining social and economic connections in more than one country. Says Bedford: "They've got citizenship and left again. Some nationalities, such as Taiwan and Hong Kong, are far more mobile subsequently. Many of them came, and left. And a lot of them didn't come back.

"There's a re-emigration of immigrants, not necessarily because they're brassed off with the country they're in, although people think they must be dissatisfied."

New Zealanders migrating to Australia are just as mobile. A researcher studied 112,000 of them and found they'd made more than 900,000 moves since arriving in Australia, most of them to and from New Zealand.

Bedford: "We were interested in this view that once people move to Australia they've gone, left New Zealand, they don't have any involvement in our economy, they're lost human capital.

"We write them off. We don't realise that for many of them, migration is not a process where you make your decision permanently. Circumstances change. You can change your mind."

But the question New Zealand needs to make up its mind about is still simple: do we want immigrants or not? The answer to that one was always yes, and it still is. The government says it does. The main opposition party agrees. More important, surveys show the public wants them, too, if for no other reason than people are leaving New Zealand in such numbers that without immigration we'd soon be in trouble.

The real question is much more dodgy: what sort of immigrants do we want?

Don Brash, leader of the National Party, pushed that argument right up the scale with his "bedrock values" speech. Basically, he believes we should only allow into this country people who think the same way we do (see box, page 18).

Officially, the government is outraged by Brash. "Along with his election campaign stuff about mainstream New Zealanders, he's trying to do what others have done in history, which is define the 'in' crowd by who is not in it," says Immigration Minister David Cunliffe.

"It risks importing the stresses and ten-sions that many countries are finding between different religious and ethnic com-munities and we don't need that here."

But in practice the difference between the two may not be as great as it seems.

In the year to March, New Zealand brought in some 54,000 immigrants. For the 2006-07 year, the target is between 47,000 and 52,000 and, says Cunliffe, "we expect to be at the top end of that range". In the 2005-06 year, we had a net loss of 24,000 New Zealand residents and a net gain of 33,800 other countries' citizens, leaving us 9800 in the black.

That's a lot of immigrants. Says Cunliffe: "It's not the highest it has ever been but it's the highest in the six years of our government."

The labour market is tight, the competition for skilled New Zealanders stiff, so - more people out, more in.

Postwar-assisted immigration policy focused on young, white British citizens. Easy assimilation was the goal, and effectively meant what the New Zealand Encyclopaedia called a "white New Zealand policy".

But as the 50s ended, we took on a different hue. Asian students began arriving, and Pacific Islanders. New Zealand started becoming more cosmopolitan.

In the new millennium, however, the British are again our biggest single immigration group. Bedford explains the shift like this: at the end of 2003, people who spoke English as their mother tongue and who had worked in jobs that fitted the New Zealand market were fast-tracked; the rest took the lower, slower route in. So the balance shifted towards the UK.

"It's not really deliberately discriminatory," says Bedford, "it's just that we put so much weight on the quality of language and the labour market being the same as New Zealand's."

But have we seen a de facto return to a white New Zealand policy?

Brash talks of diversity being like red wine: "Too much too quickly alters your personality and can be thoroughly bad." But when Cunliffe talks of diversity, he speaks of the "best settlement outcomes" for migrants.

Is that code for the kind of selection Brash talks about? "Most of all, it's a feeling of belonging," says Cunliffe. "It's also about the host community feeling good about the people who have come, and the ability to converse with them is an important part of that. We don't bring people in and expect them to become carbon copies of the people here. It's the reverse. We celebrate diversity and we look for unity in a new culture."

New Zealanders certainly pay lip- service to that ideal.

Colleen Ward and Anne-Marie Mas-goret from Victoria University's Centre for Applied Cross-Cultural Research surveyed New Zealanders' attitudes towards immigrants and found an overwhelming majority, 89 percent, agreeing that a society made up of different races, cultures and religions was a good thing.

But, says Ward, there's a gap between principle and practice. "When you ask migrants about their experience of pre-judice or unfair treatment, 40 percent of Chinese students, for example, said people behaved negatively towards them."

Richard and Jemma McDade arrived in late 2004. He's a physics teacher from Glasgow, she a lawyer from England - handy for negotiating New Zealand's tricky immigration points system.

Physics teachers, if not lawyers, are in demand worldwide. Richard had his pick. Surprisingly, New Zealand salaries shaped up. He earns about $70,000 at his Auckland secondary school, compared with £42,000 back home. "But the $70,000 goes so much further here. It's night and day different." They bought a house here a few weeks ago.

For Richard, the main reasons for emigrating were not economic. He likes the outdoors. He surfs at Piha, mountainbikes, tramps; he's right into photography. He came here on a two-year working visa. They decided to stay after a year and applied for permanent residence. Will they stay? He says: "Until there's a good reason for going." Jemma, so keen on the country that she had read all of Michael King's The Penguin History of New Zealand by her first week here, says: "I miss my family. But I'm hoping they will come out."

Javed Khan, president of the New Zealand Federation of Islamic Associations, is also a lawyer - with New Zealand Post. He has been here 26 years, including five years of study for a law degree. He says when he first arrived no one cared whether he was Muslim or not. "The problems started after 9/11. That was the turning point. Now there's a lot of prejudice against Muslims in terms of getting employment, being accepted by the community. The majority are still very understanding, very tolerant. But getting jobs - the feedback is, it's very difficult."

Even within that group of immigrants diversity can be difficult.

Most of the 23,000 Muslims here are from Fiji, but New Zealand accommodates Muslims from some 40 countries. They can be very different.

Abdullah Drury, a Muslim historian originally from the Waikato, married a Fijian Indian and converted to Islam. Now he is a former social secretary of the Canterbury Muslim Association living in Christchurch, where there are more Muslims from the Middle East and Africa than there are from Fiji. He has complained that a poorly planned influx of immigrants and refugees from Africa and the Middle East in the 1990s, many of them less well-educated than Muslims already here and from different cultures, overwhelmed the early Muslim families. But the differences so far seem to have been confined to mosques.

"I understand where Brash is coming from," he says. "He's not saying Muslims, but he means them.

"You haven't heard a peep out of the Bosnian Muslims from Europe since they arrived. There were only about 140 of them.

"By contrast, we brought over 1000 Somalis and there have been problems in settling them down. Obviously they're exposed to more racial taunts and abuse; and there are cultural differences that are harder to bridge."

Brash is coy about countries he doesn't want immigrants from, but so is Cunliffe.

"We don't have a bar on any country," he says. But: "Some countries have a higher risk profile in terms of the people they send here and the immigration profiling group within the Immigration Service assesses the risk of individual applicants from those countries."

Which? "I can't tell you that for diplomatic or security reasons. There are 23 on the list." Yes, he says, some are Muslim.

An inquiry into how we shape up in the new competitive migration environment shows the immediate obstacle to immigrants here has more to do with bureaucrats than values.

People approved for work or student permits increasingly move on to permanent residence, leading to what Bedford and Ho call a fundamental shift in thinking by New Zealand policy-makers here: they are using temporary permits to woo long-term residents, who in turn use those permits to "suck it and see".

But aspiring New Zealand citizens, even badly needed ones such as Jörn Adam (see box, page 17), face the kind of hurdles that give way only to the determined.

Oana Tong, from Aix-en-Provence in France, came here first to get a teaching diploma from Auckland University. She spent a year teaching at Auckland Girls' Grammar, then returned to France where she married a New Zealander who was promptly given a five-year working permit to stay in France.

New Zealand didn't return the favour when she came back with her husband and 14-month-old daughter. A qualified teacher? We seemed indifferent. Despite a teacher shortage, before she left her job, no one contacted her asking if she wanted to stay and apply for residency. Her application for residency, lodged last October, seemed to have disappeared in the system. Shortly after the Listener published a letter from Tong in mid-July, her residency finally arrived. "I like it here," she says, "but all the time, you don't feel you are welcome."

Even Cunliffe wrings his hands over the case of a Kiwi working in a good job in New York, married to a US citizen, with two US-born children, who wanted to return. His family should have got residency on the basis of their skills, at least. "But it has been buried in some process for over a year and they've had no certainty and that has affected their relocation decision back to New Zealand."

Immigration standards are constantly being tweaked. Just last week Cunliffe changed the rules to help people in his expat Kiwi's - and Tong's - situation, removing limits on the numbers of children and partners who can accompany New Zealand citizens or people with residents' visas.

But Cunliffe has some sympathy with those who complain about his Immigration Service dragging its feet: "I'm seeking to change it. It's not always fast." Dead slow, in fact? The Minister agrees. "In many cases it is slow." And the slower it goes, the faster we'll lose people.