OPINION: The case against proposed changes to Settlement Support NZ is put by Venture Southland group manager, enterprise and strategic products, Steve Canny.
Maintaining a successful migrant settlement service in Southland is crucial to the ongoing growth and wellbeing of our region.
This is why Southland is raising its collective voice: mayors, community groups, employers and migrants, speaking together against the proposed Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment settlement model.
Although our regional focus should and always will be on employing locals, including our youth wherever possible, the 2013 census tells us that our region's population growth is due largely to migration. The Southland region grew by 2.7 per cent between 2006 and 2013, underpinned by migration. During this period 3156 Asian, Middle Eastern, African and Latin American people decided to make Southland their home.
Population growth should mean better services and a bigger share ofthe central government funding cake. Instead, services are being retrenched and centralised.
The new settlement model appears to be a reduced-cost, one- size-fits-all approach, based on outdated thinking, which adopts an inter-regional model that has failed in the past.
If adopted, the proposed settlement model will significantly disadvantage Southland and the other rural export-driven regional economies; something that appears to be out of step with central government policy of driving economic growth through exports.
At a meeting in February with Southland stakeholders, Stephen McGill, from the ministry, outlined the proposed model and the limitations imposed by the ministry budget of $1.7 million, which had remained unchanged for the past seven years.
The meeting was advised that the detail of the proposed programme had yet to be developed and that the level of service for Southland had not yet been determined. However, the programme would involve: improved web support for migrant and visa applicants; more effective call-centre services; a face-to-face settlement person (part-time) and a retention specialist (possibly) for the lower South Island.
The ministry argues that more of our everyday business is being done online, but it's abundantly clear that new migrants often need to sit down with a local, qualified settlement support officer to navigate immigration rules and regulations, and demystify the nuances of life, including language and customs, of a new country.
Venture Southland presented the rationale for combining the role of face-to-face services and retention specialist into one role and also the importance of successful settlement of migrants for population and skills retention.
The stakeholders expressed a unanimous view that the proposed ministry model was inefficient, non-empowering and would significantly undermine successful settlement.
The ministry assured the gathering the proposed policy was drafted following extensive consultation with industry sector groups and stakeholders. However, those gathered questioned that and backed a partnering model similar to that of the Regional Business Partners (New Zealand Trade and Enterprise/Callaghan) programme.
The proposed ministry model also appears to undermine the potential for export-led economic growth, and a mayoral forum with the minister of immigration is now planned.
Venture Southland has more than 10 years of migrant attraction and settlement experience with employers, and, since 2006, has been the provider of Settlement Support in Southland.
Although local employment for our young people and the existing workforce is a priority, it is clear continued inward migration is needed to maintain and grow population and skill requirements.
Our geographical and economic makeup further strengthens the case for retaining on-the-ground support.
Southland covers 12.5 per cent of New Zealand's total area and accounts for 12 per cent of the country's total trade export receipts. The region produces 12.34 per cent of New Zealand's dairy goods and this industry relies heavily upon a stable migrant workforce.
A Deloitte report showed migration contributes more than $463m to the Southland economy annually and is an important factor in helping the region generate $855m in exports.
The true cost of the successful Settlement Support model is not reflected in the ministry's contribution. Southland's councils contribute a significant amount of money, through Venture Southland, to ensure the model is effective. On top of this is the priceless role of volunteer organisations in Southland, which further aids successful migrant settlement.
The service has received many letters of support in its battle to keep migrant services at a level where they will continue to aid newcomers.
Several letters note it would be difficult for an agent outside the region to understand the issues and have the necessary networks to help migrants deal with a plethora of settlement challenges.
Each region has its own quirks and cultural nuances and a centralised, one-size-fits-all approach is doomed to failure, as history has shown.
Hopefully, New Zealand has learned something from past experience.
- The Southland Times
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