More 24-month-visas being issued now: Angus McKay, Mayor, Ashburton
In an exclusive chat with this newspaper, Angus McKay, Mayor of Ashburton District Council, says he was told by the Philippines Ambassador recently that New Zealand authorities are issuing more and more two-year work-visas these days, so that migrant workers can benefit from access to subsidised healthcare. This has been one of the major demands of the Canterbury Mayoral Forum, in which McKay looks after the migrant affairs.
Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
I am a fourth-generation New Zealander. I am a mix-cropping farmer trading in lambs, grains and seeds. In fact, I have been one of the pioneers in growing vegetable seeds for overseas markets.
As regards to my political career, I was involved in Environment Canterbury from 1998 to 2010. When I came home six years back, I thought of standing for the District Council, was asked to stand for the mayor, did, got elected and have been the mayor of the Ashburton District Council ever since.
In your six years of Mayorship, how has the demographic of Ashburton district changed?
To give an indication, nearly 25 percent of the people who now live here, were not here six years ago.
And lots of these are migrant Filipino dairy farm workers. How is the Council helping them integrate?
One initiative is that we assist funding a Multicultural Bite on the Waitangi Day, which this year was attended by over 10 thousand people. It's also a market day, so that people can taste food from different cultures. It's our way of recognising the many cultures we have. Various church organisations also play a role in making migrants feel at home. We also have a position called Network Coordinator in the Council, who looks after the migrant issues. We have also published a very informative booklet with very useful tips for new arrivals in our district.
One major issue with migrant workers is access to subsidised healthcare. Has your Council taken some measures for it?
Since it was not possible for one mayor to argue for this in Wellington, ten of us joined hands under the Canterbury Mayoral Forum toconcentrate on the issue and we have had some success. It has been reported to us that Department of Internal Affairs and Immigration New Zealand are now issuing more 24 months visas so that the migrant workers get access to subsidised healthcare.
We have done quite a lot of talking and writing letters to Wellington but they have not yet acknowledged that this is happening. But we have seen that it has now started to happen. I was personally told about this by the Filipino ambassador when I met him recently in Rangiora.
All of us in the Mayoral Forum represent the Canterbury region and we see it as an important step towards having the diversity of workers to develop the region going forward.
The forum is pushing to have migrants similar access to what we, New Zealanders, have, because migrant workers are taxpayers too. It's only fair.
Are there any other such issues that the Mayoral Forum will be arguing for?
We started with healthcare as it was the most important one. But going forward the Forum will keep pushing other migrant issues as well. It's absolutely on top of our agenda.