Published in Insights, The New Zealand Initiative’s newsletter, 14 September 2012
For the past two weeks, I have been attending conferences in Europe. Following the general meeting of the Mont Pelerin Society in Prague, I spoke at the European Resource Bank in Brussels. Both conferences brought together policy experts from around the world but, naturally, mainly from Europe. What struck me most about the sessions and the conversations with delegates was the deep sense of pessimism that has beset my European friends and colleagues.
After three years of the euro crisis, with growth in the Eurozone anaemic, Britain going through a double-dip recession, and unemployment in the Mediterranean region at record highs, the gloom is hardly surprising. Even the supposedly stronger Germans, admittedly not the most cheerful people, fear being dragged down by the bailout packages they are underwriting.
Several times at the conferences, various participants asked me for advice on whether New Zealand was the country to emigrate to. They may have only had vague ideas about New Zealand but correctly calculated it would maximise their distance to the euro crisis.
For many years, opinion polls in European countries have been showing a growing willingness to emigrate. The higher a person’s qualifications, the more interested they are in migrating.
This is bad for Europe but good for New Zealand. We might benefit from an influx of qualified, motivated migrants whose education had already been paid for.
It is not as if we don’t have any jobs for such migrants. Every year, the government publishes a skills shortages list. The main occupational groups affected by this skills shortage are engineering, construction, agriculture and forestry, health services, ICT and electronics, and transport – which is almost the entire labour market except culture and media studies graduates. With New Zealand’s massive migration loss to Australia, the problem is becoming more and more acute every year.
To fill these skills shortages, and to build an even stronger New Zealand, we should be thinking about tapping into the pool of potential migrants from Europe. Danish engineers, Spanish doctors, Italian IT specialists (and maybe even German economists) could all add to the growth of the kiwi economy.
No doubt New Zealand is an attractive country – even those Europeans who knew little else about New Zealand knew that. But are we doing enough to attract the best migrants to our country? Or are we happy for them to migrate to Canada, the United States, Asia or Australia instead?