If it ain't broke

By: Actors Equity Nz  05-Apr-2012
Keywords: Immigration, Theatre, Performing Arts

Changes to New Zealand visa regulations for overseas artists and industry personnel mean that local talent will be left out in the cold, argues Jacinda Arden

Earlier this year, the New Zealand National Party made significant changes to the regulations surrounding international talent entering the country. Not only did these changes come in spite of opposition to them from across the film and television industry, but they also set New Zealand apart from the rest of the world, and not in a good way.

So I asked the Minister of Immigration to tell me why these changes were being made when, after 10 years of fine tuning, we had a system in New Zealand that was working well. How, precisely, would such significant changes to the process of obtaining a Performing Artists, Entertainers and Entertainment Industry Personnel Work Visa − including a 14-day exemption which would essentially allow most overseas productions to bring in anyone they wanted, with no regard to our local industry − help our actors gain work and experience?

His response was not exactly direct. He stated that the immigration process was clarified in order to ensure that the “…wording of the immigration instructions is correctly adhered to” and that, prior to these changes, “…the process had significantly deviated from the actual wording of the immigration instructions”. He concluded that the changes would “…ensure that New Zealand continues to facilitate and welcome offshore film productions and the jobs they create for New Zealand film workers”.

I completely disagree with both the National Party and the Minister’s position, and so does Labour.

From the beginning, we pushed hard against the Minister tinkering with a system that worked, and we were not the only ones. This issue has in fact united whole sections of the industry − producers, actors, techos and musicians. In spite of the representations from those who know the industry best, the Minister of Immigration proceeded. We’re now deeply concerned that these policy changes have the ability to effectively freeze Kiwi actors out of the domestic entertainment industry by removing the checks and balances that existed to ensure that our local talent got a fair go.

Changes by the Minister effectively remove the requirement of producers to take into account employing local entertainers or professionals above those sourced overseas, which means that local talent runs the risk of being overlooked − something that I have heard strong opposition to from producers themselves, and it’s easy to see why. I have already heard of examples of roles that, even from my layperson’s knowledge, could and should have been filled domestically but have gone to imported labour, with little to no justifiable reason given.

The changes that the National Government have made are totally inconsistent with our immigration policy for all other sectors and we have been given no rationale for why we should not look within our own pool of talent before looking abroad when it comes to the film and television industry. Of course, there will be scenarios where talent from abroad is required, but immigration policy in this area already allowed this to happen. The result was a system that had very few objections from Actors’ Equity.

Removing these tests, as the Minister has done, could have a much broader effect. Local productions, for example, may turn to hiring performers from overseas if it is perceived by overseas executives to be more economically viable, leaving Kiwi performers struggling to obtain work at home.

These changes run the risk of creating irreparable damage to New Zealand’s film and television industries. We, as a nation, should be acknowledging the immense talent that our creative industries have fostered and encouraging international visitors and domestic producers to consider hiring locally.

Labour wants to work alongside actors and producers to ensure that our creative industry can continue to flourish. But this much is clear − we’ll start by supporting our local industry and by reversing the changes made by National and the Minister of Immigration.

Ultimately, this is about backing ourselves, building on our talent and our experience. If we don’t, what kind of industry will we be left with?

Jacinda Ardern is the NZ Labour Party Spokesperson for Employment & Youth Affairs, and the party’s Associate Arts, Culture and Heritage Spokesperson. This article was written in the lead up to the NZ general election and referendum on November 26

Keywords: Actors, Immigration, Performers, Performing Arts, Theatre, Unions

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