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Skilled Migration: Challenges and Opportunities in Rapidly Changing Global and Local Contexts


In this seminar I review recent developments in the global and local contexts within which New Zealand's policies to attract, select and retain skilled migrants are situated. Three themes are considered:

  • Shifts in patterns of demand for and supply of skilled migrants
  • Recent trends in migration to and from New Zealand
  • Emerging issues relating to the definition of "skill" in aging populations

There have been some major shifts in both the patterns of demand for migrants with skills, as well as in the ways in which people with these skills are responding to opportunities to work in other countries. Temporary flows of skilled labour are now much larger than the flows of people approved for residence, and "circular migration" rather than "settlement migration" has re-emerged as a critical theme in the literature. Re-migration of people with desired skills who have been approved for residence is much more common than previously thought, especially from countries like Australia and New Zealand.

New Zealand's international migration system is renowned for its volatility, and the second section of presentation will examine, briefly, some recent developments in permanent and long-term migration flows. Trans-Tasman migration, in particular, has attracted quite a bit of publicity over the past 12 months, and some dimensions of this critical component of New Zealand's international migration system will be examined. Leakage to Australia of skilled migrants approved for residence in New Zealand remains an issue that needs to be kept in mind when setting medium-term targets for residence approvals under the skilled migrant category, notwithstanding the changes made to New Zealand's citizenship legislation in 2005, and to Australia's social security provisions in 2001 as these relate to New Zealanders migrating to Australia.

Looking ahead, it is clear that there are going to be on-going challenges to the definition of what constitutes "skilled migration". A brief look at the skills in demand that feature in the Department of Labour's short-term and long-term skill shortage lists shows that "skill", in the context of the "Skilled Migrant Category", has a wide definition. An emerging area of shortage internationally is in labour with skills in demand in the "caring industry". There are some particular social challenges that will accompany significant increases in migrants with skills in demand in the caring industry, especially given the predominance of female participation in this work.

The international migration system is in a state of considerable flux. None of the major flows are quite what they seemed to be even a few years ago. Diaspora are becoming increasingly important recruiting grounds for skills back home in countries that have become the major suppliers of skilled labour, especially China and India. In both of these countries, return migration is not necessarily followed by "permanent" settlement of those who come home - keeping options open for re-migration is a critical feature of contemporary return.

The defining feature of a successful immigration policy for the 21st century is an ability to respond quickly to changes in patterns of demand for labour, as well as changes in patterns of behaviour of migrants. New Zealand is fortunate in having framework legislation that permits immigration policy to be formulated, amended and approved without resort to repeated changes in the Immigration Act. This permits relatively "nimble" responses to changes in the local and global context - an essential pre-requisite for success in the increasingly competitive market for labour with all kinds of skills.


Professor Richard Bedford has been Professor of Geography at the University of Waikato since 1989. His undergraduate and graduate degrees are from the University of Auckland and his PhD was completed in 1971 in the Research School of Pacific Studies at the Australian National University. He is a specialist in migration studies and since the mid-1960s he has been researching processes of population movement in the Asia-Pacific region.

During the 1980s Professor Bedford was the Convenor of the Population Monitoring Group of the former New Zealand Planning Council. In 1990 he was awarded the NZ 1990 Medal for services to New Zealand. In 2000 he was elected to Fellowship of the Royal Society of New Zealand.

He is currently a member of the New Zealand National Commission for UNESCO's Social Sciences Sub-Commission, the inter-governmental International Metropolis Project, and the Royal Society of New Zealand's contact point with the International Geographical Union (IGU). He is a full member of the IGU Commission on Population and Vulnerability. In 2001 he was appointed by the Minister of Immigration as academic adviser to the Ministerial Advisory Group on Immigration, and in 2004 he was invited to chair the Government's inter-departmental Social Policy Evaluation and Research (SPEaR) Committee.

Professor Bedford is on several editorial advisory boards for journals including Population, Society and Place (UK), The Journal of Migration and Ethnic Studies (UK), the Journal of International Migration and Integration (Canada), Australian Geographical Studies (Australia), The Journal of Population Research (Australia), Asia Pacific Viewpoint (New Zealand).


The video has been divided into three parts.

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