Migrants and housing: a personal story

Labour's proposed new housing policy is going to break something I really loved about the migrant experience in New Zealand.

Labour's proposed new housing policy is going to break something I really loved about the migrant experience in New Zealand.

I moved to New Zealand in 2003 with Susan. I'd accepted an appointment as a lecturer in the Department of Economics at Canterbury and arrived on a skilled migrant visa.* Susan's work visa was tied to mine – at the time, the new points system was slowly ramping up and the points threshold was very high.

We rented a brick house on Hudson St for our first year, while we got a feel for the place and whether we'd like to stay. We wanted to go month-to-month at the end of that year's lease while house shopping but the owners were coming back from Dubai so we had to be out at the end of the lease. That was a bit too quick for house shopping, so we rented an old damp art deco place on Knowles in Mairehau (the real estate agents would say St Albans) on a one-year lease and started properly house shopping.

We bought our place in South Brighton and took possession as the second lease was running out. We received permanent residence around that time, but we were shopping while on our work visas.
And at no point did it ever really matter that we weren't residents or citizens. We were people who lived in New Zealand, and as good as anybody else living here.
It was really different from living in the States. As a Canadian in the US on an F-1 student visa, it was always very very clear that you were second-class relative to real Americans. You had to have your passport on you, all the time. Every interaction with the state made clear that you were lesser. And that didn't change on getting permanent residence there. Move house? Better let the state know promptly, lest Immigration chase you down.
Under Labour's proposed policy, only citizens and permanent residents will be allowed to purchase existing houses here. Others can hire builders to build new ones, or maybe buy ones in new developments as they get going – it hasn't been that well laid out yet.
But either way, a young skilled migrant on a work visa aiming towards residence will have a very different experience than I did. We sure wouldn't have been able to afford a new build if that's all we'd been allowed to buy in 2005, and we sure wouldn't have been able to live out by the Brighton beach where we wanted to live. It was paradise.
And I wonder whether we would have stayed here if the 2005 Labour government had been as keen on pointing out how much we weren't wanted around.
I really hope Labour re-thinks this one. Put a stamp duty on foreign buyers if you want. I don't much like that either but it's not nearly as important.
If someone is building a life here, it shouldn't matter what visa they're on.
UPDATE: Update: Just so it's really clear, there are work visas that are called Work to Residence visas. The expectation on those visas is that, unless you screw something up, you're on the path to residence. I came in on one of those. That visa category is still there. And I really really hope that people on it get counted as resident for Labour's ban-foreigners policy.

Eric Crampton is chief economist at The New Zealand Initiative. This post first appeared on his personal blog Offsetting Behaviour.

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