by Josh Wilson
Just over a month ago I moved from the UK to the beautiful New Zealand – the home of the mighty All Blacks, the cute Kiwi bird and jumping into an abyss supported by nothing but a piece of string in search of some elusive sense of ‘excitement’ (also known as a bungee jump). I am going to be here for at least a year; with the graduate job market looking so feeble back home I decided working in a bar somewhere with a bit more sun wasn’t such a bad idea.
This makes me an economic migrant, and there are a lot of us young Europeans over here. So why aren’t people outraged that I am stealing a hard working Kiwi’s job or putting undue pressure on the welfare state? I should probably point out at this point that I am a white British atheist, and I think this may be very important in trying to answer the question of why I’m not victimised and resented by the vast majority of New Zealanders.
Kiwis are very welcoming on the whole; if we are talking in generalisations I would go as far to say as more so than us Brits. But when we look at attitudes towards and laws on immigration in ‘developed’ countries with a majority of citizens of white European descent, immigrants from other such countries are undeniably favoured. This is shown by the visa application process alone, with mine taking a matter of minutes filling out an online form to get a year-long working visa.
A similar process is available for Kiwis who wish to live and work in the UK, although this is becoming increasingly difficult under the current Conservative government. We also see the freedom of movement between Australia and New Zealand as well as across all of the European Union, with the only backlash being against those entering the UK from Eastern European countries such as Poland, which also happens to be one the poorest nations within the EU. If I were to try to enter New Zealand or the UK from a country such as India or Uganda the process would not be so straightforward, despite all these countries being members of the Commonwealth.
The obvious reason for this difference in rules is that the UK and New Zealand have similar average incomes, so people are naturally going to come in fewer numbers than they might where the average income is considerably higher in one country compared to another. But in 2015 the UK was the 4th largest source of migrants entering New Zealand. New Zealand also has a considerably higher rate of migration than the UK, with net migration in 2015 accounting for about 1.5% of the population, compared to just 0.5% in the UK.
why aren’t people outraged that I am stealing a hard working Kiwi’s job or putting undue pressure on the welfare state?
So immigration is pretty high in New Zealand, and the UK plays a major role in this, but still other key source countries seem to be far more resented. I would also like to note at this point that the issue of migration is not as dominant in New Zealand’s political landscape as it is in the UK, and currently the main attacks are coming from the opposition Labour Party with the current National administration (similar to the Tories) having a pro-migrant stance.
The basic arguments against immigration tend to be based around two key areas: employment and welfare costs. Despite both these theories being largely debunked, if they were valid they surely would hold for all migrants, not just those from poorer countries. People from the UK seek employment just the same as those from other parts of the world, UK children take school positions and spaces on doctors’ waiting lists just the same as any other migrant. So why would attitudes towards people from the UK be different from those towards people from other source countries?
Ultimately, it seems to be based on prejudice. This isn’t an attack on New Zealanders. When people complain about immigration levels in the UK they tend not to be talking about New Zealanders, Australians, or Americans. It seems there is a group of countries that had large amounts of White European migration during Colonial times between which migration is now much more accepted than from outside of this group.
This is shown with the talk of a free movement zone between the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. It seems that those from countries with majority different religion or skin colour are seen as somehow more dangerous, more likely to have negative impacts on the society and economy. Notions towards migrants from around the world are based on fear of the other and the lies invented to make this distrust more palatable. Ultimately, most Kiwis don’t hate me because I look similar to the majority of them, I speak the same language, I wear similar clothes – I am not an Other.
I look similar to the majority of them, I speak the same language, I wear similar clothes – I am not an Other.
But it goes even deeper than this – without trying to sound too pretentious and gap year-ey, a couple of years ago as part of my degree I undertook an internship in Zambia. For the few months I was there it became apparent that the European and North American community that lived there were not referred to as migrants but expats. Words are powerful and this divergence in terminology connotes the fundamental issue with international migration. The remnants of Colonial views, even if we don’t consciously think about it, still persist. Ultimately countries with a majority of the population of European decent seem to have more of a right to migrate at their pleasure, reinforcing the divides and disparity established during the colonial period.
People fear the Other, but it seems some Others are feared more. We cannot shy away from the fears people have about immigration, for some it is their primary concern. But we also cannot shy away from the wider picture, that there is massive disparity of how some migrants are treated compared to others and the roots of this divergence are based in Empire. This is why I am not hated or resented as a migrant from England in New Zealand.
Featured image © eaglemigration.co.nz