Economist suggests selling visas to entrepreneurs to help pay COVID debt

coronavirus 18/05/2020

A prominent economist has suggested the Government sell visas to foreigners to help pay back the pandemic debt.

But rather than hocking them off to rich folk so they can build apocalypse bunkers, Cameron Bagrie says they should go to people setting up businesses which employ Kiwis and pay them big bucks.

"We've got the potential to get out there and sell what's called 'Sanctuary New Zealand'," he told The AM Show on Monday.

"This is not about selling visas for cash - this is about selling visas for intellectual property. Intellectual capital. People's connectivity in the global scene. 

"You don't sell a visa for someone to come down and buy or build a house - you sell a visa for someone to come down and build a company, have 20 New Zealanders employed and make sure you pay them above the average wage." 

New Zealand's success in quashing the spread of COVID-19 has been hailed worldwide. "New Zealand edges back to normal after quashing coronavirus in 49 days," a Washington Post headline read on Sunday. 

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has been singled out for praise in outlets as big as CNN and the New York Times - the latter last week using a picture of her and Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield to illustrate a story headlined "Why Are Women-Led Nations Doing Better With COVID-19?"

The UK's The Times newspaper in April said rich Americans were looking to New Zealand as a "sanctuary" from their own government's slow and fumbled response, which has seen the US by far the hardest-hit country to date, with more than 90,000 dead. 

Relying on economic growth to pay back the tens of billions the Government is borrowing to shore up the economy through the biggest shock since the Great Depression will take a "miracle" to work, Bagrie says.

Though borrowing was the right thing to do, he says the sheer amount leaves little room to work with should another shock arrive in the next decade or so.

"Is there going to be another rainy day or monsoon in the next 10 to 15 years? The answer is yes. If you look at the projections of where Government debt is going to be in 10 years' time, it's about 47.7 percent of GDP. That's still incredibly high, and that doesn't provide much of a support package or buffer for the next downturn... Expect taxes." 

National Party leader Simon Bridges told Newshub Nation at the weekend to expect Labour to raise taxes. Labour is yet to say whether it will or won't run a campaign on raising taxes, but isn't ruling it out. 

If not, and more money isn't raised another way, the debt will be paid off at expense of future Government spending.

"If I was a secondary school kid or I was at university at the moment, I'd be taking note," said Bagrie.