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Asia Pacific Migration Research Network (APMRN)

Migration Issues in the Asia Pacific


    A. A Critical Political Issue

In March 1975, New Zealanders were debating the desirability of stricter controls over immigration. It was an election year, and a particularly unpleasant, highly racist campaign featuring immigration from the Pacific Islands was being mounted by the then opposition National Party. Migrants from the Pacific were portrayed as a threat in law and order terms, as responsible for the deterioration of certain inner city and state housing areas, and as competing with ‘New Zealanders’ for jobs. The term ‘overstayer’ became a signifier for Pacific Island immigrants. They had been encouraged to migrate as an important element of a mass labour migration of semi and unskilled workers in the expansionary phase of the post-war period. However, the economic crisis, signalled by the oil price rises in 1973, combined with the fact that New Zealand experienced its highest ever annual net migration gain (33,200 people) in the year ended 31 March 1974, made immigration an emotive election issue. Later that year, much stricter controls over immigration were introduced.

In March 1996, during another election year, immigration again surfaced as an issue. The minority New Zealand First party is campaigning to shut the door, especially on migrants who do not seem to be serious about settling in New Zealand. Asian immigration is now the target (Heeringa 1996; Legat 1996). The Waikato Times captured the essence of contemporary media rhetoric in its feature headline on March 6: ‘NZ’s Asian Immigrants: Investors or Invaders?’ Once again net migration is approaching the 30,000 mark—for the first time since 1974. Current policy, which is based on a ‘points system’ introduced in November 1991, focuses on target numbers of approvals for entry. Immigration can be rapidly adjusted in line with government policy, or indeed political sensitivities, as one issue or another is seen to gain public approval or opposition.

The contribution which international migration is making to the growing ethno-cultural diversity of New Zealand’s population is a matter of considerable public interest and concern particularly given the liberalisation of policy since the late 1980s (see Ongley 1996). More than a year ago, the Minister of Immigration called for ‘a debate in New Zealand on what should be the optimum levels of immigration and population’ (New Zealand Herald, 24 February 1995, p. 1). There has been little informed comment on this complex question or indeed sustained and detailed research, despite extensive media coverage of immigration (Heeringa 1996; Legat 1996).

In this Issues Paper, we outline a number of the critical issues which surround the contemporary debate about immigration in New Zealand. The paper is divided into two sections. The first deals with what we have termed ‘border issues’—issues associated with immigration policy and arguments about how entry should be controlled. The second section details a number of issues associated with the contemporary ethno-cultural diversity in New Zealand. The management of this diversity is at an interesting stage because of the coincidence of at least three major developments during the 1980s and early 1990s.

The first is the way in which New Zealand has deregulated its economy and labour market and then reregulated aspects in the interests of international competitiveness and in accordance with monetarist political ambitions. The process of deregulation and the move to privatise various government services has been exceedingly rapid in world terms.

Secondly, this has occurred at the same time that the state has been seeking a new accommodation with regard to the indigenous rights of the tangata whenua (Maori) who have based their claims for resource ownership and legal and political rights on the Treaty of Waitangi signed in 1840. These politics, and the privileging of biculturalism which flows from them, have come to dominate local political and economic debates as well as more narrowly defined ethnic issues.

The third development has been the move away from an immigration policy which focussed on a narrow range of traditional source countries, and originally Britain and Ireland, and then more recently, the micro-states of the South Pacific. The new migration flows have involved professionally qualified South Africans and migrants from East Asia who have financial resources and business skills. These migrants are seen as contributing to the economic development of New Zealand by the input of capital and the linking of New Zealand to the booming economies of Asia (Palat 1996). The recency of these changes means that there are a large number of issues that require research. These are outlined in the final section of the paper where the New Zealand APMRN is discussed briefly.

    B. Border Issues

New Zealand, with its 3.5 million inhabitants in 1995, is referred in the literature as a ‘country of immigration’, one of four countries on the Pacific rim which have actively welcomed migrants, especially migrants from Europe. Compared with the other three (Australia, Canada and the United States), New Zealand was slow to move away from an immigration policy which favoured some migrants and discriminated against others. It was not until 1986 that the notion of traditional source areas began to disappear from the rhetoric of immigration policy in New Zealand. The reality, in terms of operational selection criteria and entry policies, came five years later when a ‘points system’, similar to that operated in Australia, was introduced. As we detail further on, the implementation of this new immigration policy was directly linked to the new monetarist-dominated economic policies that were imposed after 1984, and which sought to establish much more substantial links, including migration, with the Asian ‘tiger’ economies.

(1) Immigration and the Points System
The points system has transformed both the patterns of immigration to New Zealand from different parts of the world, and the nature of the public debate about immigration. One of the starkest indicators of this change is the massive increase in migration from countries in East Asia, especially Hong Kong, Taiwan and South Korea. During the four years between 1 April 1987 and 31 March 1991, the number of applications for residence from citizens of countries in East Asia totalled 17,384. In the subsequent four years (1 April 1991 to 31 March 1995), this number increased to 49,825. The actual net migration gains to New Zealand’s population resulting from the movements of citizens of countries in East Asia were 17,281 (1987–1991) and 34,879 (1991–1995).

Just as the points system made it much easier for migrants from Pacific rim countries to qualify for entry to New Zealand, the same selection criteria had the effect of discouraging migration from one of New Zealand’s ‘traditional’ sources of immigrants—the Pacific Islands. Between 1 April 1987 and 31 March 1991, 22,963 applications for residence from citizens of Pacific Island countries were approved. Over the next four years, this number almost halved to 12,716. The actual net contributions of migration of Pacific Islands citizens to New Zealand’s population growth were 18,575 (1987–1991) and 2,810 (1987–1991). The impact of the points system, coupled with a tight labour market for semi-skilled and unskilled workers (see below), has reduced net immigration from the Pacific substantially.

When it was introduced in November 1991, the points system was designed to assist in achieving immigration targets. A figure of 25,000 immigrants per year was frequently citied as being a ‘desirable’ target. It was never clear in the statements made by politicians, or the New Zealand Immigration Service, whether this was a target for new immigrants (permanent and long-term arrivals), a target for the number of applications for residence which would be approved each year, or a target for the total net migration gain each year for New Zealand. Between 1989 and 1993 (March years), the annual numbers of permanent and long-term arrivals in New Zealand (the statistical definition of ‘immigrants’) fluctuated between 25,000 and 27,500, while the number of applications for residence which were approved each year ranged between 21,300 and 28,500. These figures are not too far outside the notional 25,000 target mentioned by the then Minister of Immigration (the Hon. Bill Birch) and the New Zealand Immigration Service.

The total net migration gains during the period were much more variable, mainly because of the impact of the migration behaviour of New Zealanders on the figures. In 1989 and 1990, there were net migration losses from New Zealand, and the net gains during the subsequent three years did not exceed 14,600. By all of these numerical indicators, it seemed as though the points system was containing immigration to levels which did not greatly exceed the notional target, even if it was not entirely clear what the target actually comprised!

The situation changed radically after 1993. During the March years 1994 and 1995, there were substantial increases in PLT (permanent and long-term) arrivals of citizens from countries other than returning New Zealanders (34,300 and 44,400), similar increases in approvals of applications for residence (31,100 and 46,900 in these two years), and much higher levels of net immigration (15,900 and 22,100). Provisional estimates for the year ended 31 March 1996 suggest that PLT arrivals will exceed 55,000, residence applications are approaching 60,000, and the net migration gain could be in excess of 30,000 for the first time since 1974 (Bedford 1996).

i) Modifications to the Points System
A combination of factors, including an increase in the number of applications received from prospective migrants seeking approval to reside in New Zealand, plus a steady stream of unfavourable media comment on the ‘Asianisation’ of Auckland (see below), encouraged the Government to initiate a review of the points system during 1995. The original scheme allowed all applicants who obtained the required number of points (this had been increased from 28 in 1991 to 31 by 1994) to automatically qualify for residence. It also differentiated between applicants seeking entry for business investment purposes (they did not have to meet a number of the selection criteria if they had the financial resources to qualify for entry as business migrants) and those coming under the ‘general’ scheme. One of the problems, as perceived in New Zealand, with this ‘dual’ set of criteria, was that business immigrants could avoid the English language requirements and some of the other ‘settlement’ criteria which applied in the ‘general’ scheme.

Language proficiency was becoming an issue in schools which were attracting immigrant children. There was also the issue of ‘commitment’ to residence in New Zealand—there is a perception (which is backed up by recent survey data) that the parents of a significant number of immigrants from Hong Kong and Taiwan, in particular, have chosen to return to these countries for work purposes, leaving their children to be educated in New Zealand. This is considered by many New Zealanders to be contributing to social problems, both for the children and for the schools, especially in Auckland. The government moved to address this concern by aligning residency status with tax status. The principal applicants and their families must now pay the bulk of their tax in New Zealand, either as a result of being in New Zealand for 184 days or more per year, or must have a special tax residence status which is determined by the Inland Revenue Department.

In October 1995, the New Zealand Immigration Service announced its revisions to the points system. The most significant changes have been the abolition of an autopass for those who reach the required number of points, and the introduction of a quota management system to deliver effective control over the numbers approved for entry. The number of points required for approval is now re-assessed weekly as a strategy for managing numbers. In addition, and in response to the substantial numbers of professionally qualified immigrants who were unable to practise in New Zealand, the professionally qualified applicants must now be registered with the relevant statutory body in New Zealand before their qualification counts for points. This applies to 25 specialist occupations, notably doctors and dentists.

It is estimated that 500 to 600 immigrants are unable to practise as doctors in New Zealand despite gaining residency status. In effect, this means that the government has re-introduced a much higher level of selectivity into the operation of immigration policy again—selectivity which is not very transparent. The various selection criteria have been standardised across the business investment and general categories, and greater emphasis has been placed on skills and settlement factors which are considered to be relevant to New Zealand’s development in the last years of the twentieth century.

A critical prerequisite for selection in any category is English proficiency, not only of the principal applicant but also of members of the whole family unit. Immigrants are now required to pay a bond of $NZ 20,000 if English is not their first language and this is refunded if a standard language test is passed in their first year. This has been perceived as a racist measure (see ‘English Exam for Asians Denounced’, Nation - Thailand, 15 March 1996). The tougher language requirements are likely to have an impact on three of the largest sources of applications for residence in New Zealand—Taiwan, China and South Korea. It could well be that immigration from East Asia will drop back quite sharply over the next two or three years. This is certainly the impression conveyed by many of those in the immigration consultancy business who feel that the introduction of much stricter language criteria goes against the general philosophy of the points system.

ii) Visa-waiver
There is another aspect of New Zealand’s immigration policy which has attracted some critical comment in parts of the Asia-Pacific region. This relates to the waiver of a visa requirement for short-term visitors to New Zealand, especially visitors from countries where New Zealanders are not required to obtain a visa for a short stay. The New Zealand government has adopted a liberal approach towards visa requirements for short-term visitors from most countries in the region (Bedford & Lidgard 1996). This is obviously in New Zealand’s interest; tourism has been one of the largest contributors to growth in GNP in recent years, and an ‘open border’ policy with regard to tourist flows from countries in Asia clearly helps promote the image of ‘New Zealand as part of Asia’.

There are some anomalies, however. Four of the major sources of immigrants to New Zealand in the Asia-Pacific region are explicitly excluded from the visa-waiver provisions. These are Taiwan, Fiji, Western Samoa and Tonga. In the case of the latter three, there was a short-lived, poorly timed, experiment with visa-free entry for visitors during the Christmas holidays in 1986/97. Fears of large numbers of ‘overstayers’ at the end of the Christmas holidays prompted the New Zealand Immigration Service to abandon visa-waiver for citizens of Fiji, Western Samoa and Tonga in February 1987.

In the case of Taiwan, the situation is complicated by New Zealand’s relations with China. Citizens of Taiwan and China must obtain a visa for a short-term stay in New Zealand. Taiwanese, in particular, object to this, especially as they comprise the third largest group of tourists to New Zealand from Asia after Japan and Korea. Taiwan does have a visa-waiver provision for New Zealanders—up to 14 days since December 1994. The New Zealand government has not reciprocated, mainly because of an unwillingness to extend visa-waiver provisions to visitors from mainland China. A reason given for the latter is a reported tendency for students from China to overstay in New Zealand.

Given that the New Zealand government maintains diplomatic relations with China, and not with Taiwan, it cannot accord visa-free entry to Taiwanese without alienating China. The issue is not a trivial one. In addition to the diplomatic complexities, New Zealand tourist industry sources report an increasing dissatisfaction within Taiwan with the current situation which is beginning to impact on tourist flows. The absence of a reciprocal visa-waver agreement with Taiwan is seen as an ‘unfriendly act’—evidence of discrimination against an important trading partner.

(2) Immigration Flows and Population Change
Changes in immigration policy since 1986 have resulted in substantial modifications to both the composition of migrant flows to and from New Zealand, and the contribution which net migration from different parts of the world is making to the evolution of population and society in this Pacific rim nation. A simple indicator of the changes in the flows can be obtained by comparing growth in the numbers of arrivals (excluding New Zealand citizens) from selected parts of the world since 1980. These figures, which include tourists and other short-term visitors, are given for four March years below:

Table 1: Number of Arrival for Four March Years, Selected Areas





Sth Africa



36 000

24 300

129 600

2 390

484 300


79 000

27 000

143 600

1 790

598 600


202 100

45 600

243 200

2 290

916 300


454 500

55 200

336 800

13 190

1 388 100

The net migration gains from population movement between New Zealand and different parts of the world are highly variable both over time and between countries. In recent years, however, a common trend has been for there to be significant net gains from countries in Asia. A summary of the net gains from the four areas detailed above for the March years 1990 to 1995 is given below. The figures shown for the total net migration gain exclude the movements of New Zealand citizens.

Table 2: Net Gains from Immigration, 1990–1995, Selected Areas





Sth Africa



11 500

-1 700



11 000


5 300


2 700


7 700


6 800

1 400

-1 500


7 400


8 800

-1 800

4 400

1 120

15 900


11 600

3 500

7 000

2 900

29 800


20 900

2 000


2 300

43 800

The contribution which international migration is making to changes in the composition of New Zealand’s population has to be considered in two contexts. Firstly, there is the impact of international migration on the age composition of the population. Secondly, there is the impact of migration on ethnic composition. In this paper, we concentrate on the latter in the context of a number of issues relating to the domestic society and economy. Before turning to these domestic issues, however, a few observations can be made about the impact of migration on the age structure of New Zealand’s population. A much more detailed analysis of this aspect of migration and population change is currently in preparation by members of the New Zealand Asia-Pacific Region Migration Network at the University of Waikato (Bedford, Lidgard & Young 1996).

New Zealand has a highly unstable age structure, largely because of a legacy of low fertility in the 1930s, substantial increases in birth rates during the late 1940s and 1950s, high fertility in the 1960s, and declines in birth rates through the 1970s and 1980s. The distribution of the population by age is highly irregular. The contribution which international migration makes to population change by age is also highly irregular, despite the oft-cited tendency for migrants to be concentrated in the young working age groups.

Some of the differences in contributions which international migration between New Zealand and Australia, the Pacific Islands and countries in Asia have made to the age composition of New Zealand’s population during the four years between 1 April 1990 and 31 March 1994 are illustrated below. The actual change in the total population over this period, excluding the contribution made by international migration, is shown in italics in the last column to illustrate the highly uneven pattern of change in the resident population as a result of past fertility (and migration) trends.

Table 3: Age Composition and Population Change

Age group


Pacific Is


Pop. Change


1 940


1 551

19 649




2 772

16 253



1 693

4 466

-6 396



2 942

6 714

-33 780


5 735


4 525

24 909


2 778


4 488

-22 942


1 138

1 026

3 120

10 065


1 069

1 604

7 080

23 592




4 515

7 158


-1 447


2 564

38 792




3 369

22 203


-1 923


3 730

2 046




2 949

-7 845


-1 250



4 841





11 990





16 288


6 325

11 200

52 160

126 823

It is clear that trans-Tasman migration and net migration gains from Asia have contributed most to the changes in the 20–24 and 25–29 year age groups, while migration from the Pacific has impacted more on the older teenagers, and the age groups in the thirties. Migration from countries in Asia has also largely offset the decline in numbers in the New Zealand population aged 10–14 (one of the reasons for the high profile of Asian children in some primary schools?), and contributed significantly to changes in a number of other age groups where ‘natural increase’ was either low, or negative (40–44, 55–59 and 60–64). International migration is clearly having quite complex impacts on the ‘ageing’ of the New Zealand population.

This factor is further complicated by the effect of differential fertility amongst the major ethnic groups. Fertility in the dominant and ageing Pakeha population is fluctuating around replacement level. This group is not contributing significantly to growth in numbers in the younger population. Those of Maori and Pacific Islands descent have had much higher levels of fertility through the 1970s and 1980s (although Maori and Pakeha fertility have converged rapidly in recent years) and they constitute a growing proportion of the younger groups, especially under 15 years of age.

The recent contributions made by immigration from Asian countries to the younger population of New Zealand has also contributed significantly to ethnic diversification. If these children stay on in New Zealand to seek employment, and this should not be assumed given the results of recent surveys of Asian sixth and seventh formers in Auckland schools (Ho, Chen & Kim 1996), then the working population of New Zealand early next century will be much more diverse ethnically than is the case in the mid-1990s.

    C. Domestic Issues

(1) Migration and the Economy
Until well into the post-war era, New Zealand’s social and economic interests were aligned with Europe, and almost totally with Britain. New Zealand supplied a British market with agricultural goods in exchange for the products of industrial processes. The entry of Britain into the EEC and the oil crises of 1973 began to highlight the fact that this intimate relationship was no longer tenable and the increasing indebtedness of New Zealand in the late 1970s signalled the need to look elsewhere.

The transformation that was required in political institutions, the regulation of the economy and the restructuring of production had to await the election of a Labour Government in 1984. A conservative government throughout the 1970s refused to acknowledge the new political and economic imperatives of the latter twentieth century. In fact the National government sought to subsidise areas of production that were simply not sustainable, at least not in the form that production had taken in the post-war period with substantial government intervention and support.

By the late 1980s, the focus was increasingly on the booming economies of Asia as the new sites of capital accumulation and production. Means were sought of reorienting New Zealand production and producers away from a European focus and towards Asia. Inevitably, this produced a new willingness to encourage migration from those Asian economies that were expanding rapidly as a way of cementing new political and economic alliances, as well as ensuring markets for New Zealand products.

By 1995, East Asian business investment reached $NZ 326 million (investment from Europe represented $NZ 33 million) while in terms of general investment, East Asians contributed $NZ 285.5 million compared with that from Europe of $NZ 16.4 million (Legat 1996, ,p. 58). There was a 43 per cent increase in tertiary students and a 37 per cent increase at secondary school level from overseas students, nearly all from Asia, between 1994 and 1995 which was worth $NZ 230 million to the economy while Asian represented the largest group of inbound tourists. In 1995, Asia provided 28 per cent of all international tourists, and over the preceding six years, these numbers had grown by an average of 37 per cent per year. As the Hon D. Kidd MP commented recently:

    . . . our future prosperity and security is bound up in the internal and external dynamics of the Asia-Pacific strategic region...the reality of geography has overcome both history and sentiment - both of the latter being Euro centric (Kidd 1996).

Migrants from Asia therefore have been seen as one key element in the alignment of New Zealand with Asia.

Asian migrants of the 1990s are an important part of the strategy to link New Zealand with Asia. They are seen as bringing with them links and knowledge that will be used in an entrepreneurial way to access Asian markets, to encourage Asian investment in New Zealand production and to give New Zealanders an insight into what is required to trade with Asia. An important element in encouraging Asian migrants to come to New Zealand is to link the New Zealand economy more directly with the successful Asian economies. Recent developments in Asian internal and international migration signal the importance of these Asian economies as a new site of world capitalist production.

In addition, migrants have been sought for the human and financial capital that they can contribute to the New Zealand economy. The traditional sites of industrial production in Europe and North America have decreased in importance in terms of the employment they can offer. There is a need for production to be more flexible with the capacity to move to whichever country offers the best efficiencies in terms of maximising profit. The growth areas for employment between 1985 and 1994 in New Zealand have been in the wholesale and retail trades (30,000 additional jobs), community, social and personal services (38,000 jobs) and the business and financial sector. The structural changes to the New Zealand economy have seen the expulsion of earlier migrants from paid employment and more recent migrants from Asia and South Africa have filled the labour requirements in the expanding service sector.

Previous migrants from the South Pacific, who had come as part of the mass labour migration required in New Zealand’s industrial sector in the expanding post-war economies, have been ejected from employment along with Maori migrants who had moved from rural and provincial centres to the new sites of capitalist production. With the collapse of the semi and unskilled labour market in the late 1980s, the number of Polynesians who faced redundancy grew substantially. One in every five employed Maori lost their jobs between 1987 and 1989. In their place came the professionally skilled migrants from South Africa or countries in Asia, who brought capital for investment in New Zealand and entrepreneurial skills. As noted earlier, these changes accompanied a marked shift in immigration policy which sought to boost New Zealand’s economic performance and to import skilled professionals who cost New Zealand nothing in terms of training or the normal costs associated with growing up in a country.

Almost inevitably, the political intention has not matched the reality. Migrants who came from countries in Asia, and who did not have English as a first language, have placed pressure on those resources needed to make them part of their new country. The reluctance of the government to anticipate these demands and to provide for them has meant that considerable strain has been placed on existing resources, notably in the area of education. There has also been a mismatch of skills, particularly as overseas qualifications have not always been recognised in New Zealand.

The new immigration policy, with its emphasis on points, has not always reflected the domestic requirements in New Zealand. For example, Asian migrants, who had been successful in a particular area in their origin societies, have not always found that there is the same opportunity to use their skills in New Zealand. The raw products often do not exist, the regulations do not permit businesses to operate in New Zealand in ways that were acceptable at home, and their skills, especially English language competency, are not adequate in a New Zealand context.

(2) Migrant Concentration in Auckland
A significant element in the impact of recent migration on New Zealand has been the concentration of Asian, and to some extent South African, migration in Auckland. It is estimated that 80 per cent of recent Asian migrants have ended up in Auckland. The issues fall into two different areas: the so-called ‘Asianisation’ of Auckland, and the differences between Auckland and the rest of New Zealand.

The imagery which is encompassed in the phrase ‘Asianisation’ of Auckland reflects both the concentration of Asian migrants in certain areas of Auckland, and the impact that the visible and recent presence of such migrants will inevitably have, as well as the racialisation of Asian migrants. Asian migrants have tended to concentrate in newly established residential areas in the eastern suburbs, the North Shore and Howick. What is not so apparent to Aucklanders is the fact that each of these areas attracts different groups of Asians, so that the North Shore has tended to attract Koreans (of the 9,000 Koreans in Auckland, 70 per cent live on the North Shore), and Howick the Hong Kong Chinese and Taiwanese.

A report by the Auckland Regional Council estimated that immigrants invested about $NZ 2 billion in the Auckland housing market in 1995. In addition, a further $NZ 1 billion is estimated to have been spent on household goods, vehicles and other property investment. Immigrants provided 37,000 people to Auckland's growth during the year, which represented three-quarters of the region’s growth compared to one-quarter over the previous five years. Immigrants, and specifically the more visible East Asians, have been significant in Auckland’s recent growth.

These concentrations have strained certain infrastructural resources and services. The effect has been most apparent in schools, where in a relatively short time (less than 5 years), the number of Asians has gone from being a notional 1 or 2 per cent of the school population to in excess of 25 per cent in some schools. On the North Shore, for example, a medium sized secondary school (approximately 1000 pupils) has, as its second largest ethnic group, Koreans. This growth, combined with the need for particular educational requirements such as English language instruction, has placed new demands that have not received additional budgets until recently, and then inadequately. These distinct communities are now looking to preserve their interests, and to ensure that certain traditions, including language use, are reproduced in their new location. They constitute distinct and quite homogeneous communities in certain parts of Auckland.

Another result of the recent immigration has been the racialisation of Asian migrants in New Zealand. The term ‘Asian’ is a confusing one and indicates the difficulty most New Zealanders have not only in distinguishing between Korean, Taiwanese and Hong Kong Chinese migrants, but also in differentiating between New Zealand resident Chinese, who can trace their descent back to immigrants who arrived in the 1860s, and more recent migrants who came from Asian countries either voluntarily or as refugees (McKinnon 1996).

The perception, now established, is that the recent Asian migrants are inevitably wealthy, that they have little long-term interest in the country except for what they can exploit, that they are arrogant in not wanting to adapt to New Zealand and that they have put pressure on resources which has meant that ‘New Zealanders’ have not been able to gain access to employment, housing or education. They are also seen as ‘unfairly’ being granted welfare benefits, with 12 per cent of immigrants registered with the Employment Service in September 1995, and 5,988 on emergency benefits in January 1996 compared with 3,622 a year earlier. Seventy-five per cent of the latter group are in Auckland and many of them are refugees. The number of refugees allowed to settle in New Zealand, however, is low by world standards. In 1995, 891 arrived in the country, and there are substantial concerns about the unwillingness to accept more, and to provide adequate post-arrival facilities and support.

Nevertheless, such distinctions are irrelevant given the tendency to problematise and homogenise Asians as unwelcome immigrants. By 1995, polls were recording the fact that between 40 and 50 per cent of New Zealanders believed that there were ‘too many Asians in New Zealand’, and in a 1996 poll, 41 per cent of the respondents agreed that ‘current levels of immigration that we have are ruining this country’ (Sunday Star-Times, 19 May 1996).

Some minor political groupings (such as the Government Accountability League) and, more significantly, some national politicians, notably Winston Peters of the New Zealand First party, have articulated these concerns. These politics reflect the beliefs held by significant numbers that ‘at the economic level, the nation-state is threatened by globalisation; at the cultural level (so it is thought), it is threatened by immigration’ (Cohen 1996). Racist politics are one result.

Peters has always denied any racist intent and has emphasised that he is concerned for and on behalf of New Zealanders, especially in terms of the level of foreign control over the New Zealand economy. But, inevitably, his rhetoric is seen as an endorsement of certain racist views in the wider community. It is reinforced by an increased and declared interest by the New Zealand police in the involvement of Asians in various criminal activities, and especially the possibility that Triad gangs are operating in New Zealand.

This is an irony because one of the post-war myths was that Chinese migrants were law-abiding and had a strong work ethic. In fact, the statistics for those charged with drug offences in 1965 show that 103 of the 113 involved were Chinese. Few knew about the statistics and the popular mythology that prevailed in a post-war era meant that Chinese were viewed benignly. But with the racialisation of Asian migrants in the 1990s, the mythology has been discarded and one of the stereotypes which sustains this racialisation of Asian involvement is organised crime. It contributes to the generally negative perceptions held towards Asians by New Zealanders.

These negative and hostile reactions have been articulated in a variety of ways. In its most extreme form, they result in racist and neo-fascist politics as expressed by skinhead and motorbike gangs, most obviously in South Island centres such as Christchurch. Since 1990, and the appearance of more Asian tourists, students and migrants, the number of attacks, both against property and people has increased significantly although these politics represent the views and activities of a very small section of the community. In addition, a small number of pressure groups, such as the Government Accountability League, have been formed to oppose the current immigration policies. Public meetings seldom attract more than 40 or 50 people.

The most significant expression of the anti-Asian sentiments are provided by New Zealand First, and specifically its leader Winston Peters, whose statements encapsulate the guarded racism of middle (and typically elderly) New Zealand. Seldom are Asians mentioned directly, except as examples of the excesses of wealthy migrants, and he is more likely to couch his sentiments in a generalised way: for instance, he is opposed to selling ‘our citizenship to foreigners with enough money to buy our passports’ (Heeringa 1996, p. 57).

Nevertheless, it is clear from the public reaction and the responses to polls that he represents a significant constituency in New Zealand that is hostile in varying degrees to Asian immigration. For their part, the little research that is available suggests that Asians experience relatively little racism or discrimination directly, but they are very concerned about the way in which certain politicians and the media reflect and encourage racism (Boyer 1995; Lidgard 1996).

The concentration of Asians in Auckland, and the perceived problems that this brings, marks a major divide between Auckland and the rest of the country. Affluent Asian and South African migrants are seen to be sustaining an active Auckland property market by creating a demand for new housing and being prepared to pay significantly higher prices for that housing. The Building Research Association estimated in February 1996 that migrant demand for new houses is pushing the new dwellings required in New Zealand each year from 20,000 to 23,000, and that with the concentration of migrants in Auckland, nearly all the migrant-generated housing is to be found in this metropolitan area. This has a significant effect on the increasing value of housing and the demand for mortgages as figures provided earlier indicate.

The Reserve Bank Act requires that the Reserve Bank moderate demand so as to keep inflation below 2 per cent per annum. In order to dampen inflation, the Reserve Bank has been active in supporting higher interest rates. Residents in other parts of New Zealand regard these as a direct effect of the Auckland property market and of the impact of migration. This is compounded by estimates that Auckland’s population is anticipated to grow by 38 per cent over the next 20 years. In effect, Auckland is seen as the beneficiary of any economic gain that is associated with the arrival of affluent migrants while the rest of New Zealand must pay high interest rates in order to moderate the heating up effect of property values that are principally to be found in Auckland.

(3) Migration, Biculturalism and Ethnic Diversity
These debates and changes have taken place at a time when the indigenous people of New Zealand, Maori, have sought to articulate the rights that derive from their status as tangata whenua (people of the land or the indigenous inhabitants) and as signatories to a treaty (Treaty of Waitangi, 1840) which allowed colonisation to proceed. Maori constitute a significant (14 per cent) and growing proportion of the New Zealand population, who migrated from a rural hinterland in the post-war period in order to provide semi and unskilled labour for the industrial sector only to face substantial job losses in the late 1980s. Many have been made redundant mid-career, especially with the downsizing of the state’s involvement in economic enterprises.

For example, with the sale of forestry assets (often to Asian interests), and the privatisation of the relevant state department, it is estimated that the bulk of those who lost their jobs were Maori. The figure is as high as 80 per cent in areas such as the East Coast of the North Island. Parallel with these events, and connected to them, is an increased affiliation to iwi (tribal) groups, and to newly established non-tribal, urban Maori authorities. These groupings have negotiated vigorously for the resources that were taken from them during the period of colonisation, and they have been successful in regaining ownership of some significant resources, such as fisheries and land, although not without internal dispute.

The combination of restructuring, with its negative impact on Maori, and their concern to regain control over resources, has tended to make some Maori commentators and organisations hostile to migration from countries in Asia and the Pacific. This is compounded by major debates about the desirability of establishing biculturalism as the base to deal with Maori-Pakeha relations, the management of public sector institutions (and increasingly private sector firms) and the effective delivery of social services to Maori. Others, especially some Tagata Pasifika (Pacific Island) groups, prefer to accord biculturalism a prior place and see the policies and institutions being developed for the advancement of Maori as providing a model for other ethnic groups. A softer option, multiculturalism, which removes the privilege of Maori-Pakeha relations and replaces it with an acknowledgment of all migrant groups, is being articulated by conservative politicians and some migrant groups.

There is hostility to such locally derived politics and the requirement that New Zealanders should acknowledge the Treaty of Waitangi, that Maori concerns should be given priority with organisations such as the Waitangi Tribunal (a quasi-legal authority that makes recommendations to the government about Treaty claims), or that Maori culture and language should be part of the focus of institutions such as education. In effect, a new contract is being negotiated between Maori, the state and some Pakeha as to the position of Maori in New Zealand society in the twenty-first century. At times, these negotiations sit uncomfortably with the migration policies of the 1990s which accept the need for a new internationalism and multiculturalism. Those interested in bicultural options tend to be deeply suspicious of international ownership and links because they regard them as unsympathetic to local cultural considerations.

The debate has been heated at times, and it centres around notions of citizenship, the treaty rights of indigenous people, appropriate social service support and delivery and resource ownership. Foreign ownership of resources, or migrants from other countries who are seeking investment opportunities, are deemed to threaten some of these developments. Undoubtedly, a significant political debate throughout the rest of the decade will revolve around how to accommodate both bicultural initiatives and the new orientation to Asia for migrants, markets and capital. As Cohen (1996) notes, it is difficult ‘trying to reconcile universal principles of social justice and equal access, with the reality of exclusive citizenships and selective immigration’.

    D. The Asia-Pacific Migration Research Network in New Zealand

The New Zealand network is still in the process of being established, and key elements are being put into place. The first requirement is an active e-mail network, which links in a variety of interested researchers and organisations in both the private and public sectors, as well as those with a policy interest. This network has been initiated and will be extended during the year. It is also hoped to establish an advisory group which will be invited to contribute both advice and to be involved in the research network. Again, the aim will be to balance private and public sector, as well as research and policy interests.

In a more public sense, the UNESCO-MOST research initiative will be given publicity as part of a meeting, hosted by the New Zealand Royal Society, to be held in October 1996, which will involve the Demographic Crossroads Project (an analysis of demographic processes within New Zealand which has major research funding). The details have yet to be finalised but arrangements are now under way. Research funding for activities sponsored by the Network is also actively being sought. The major contestable funding source in New Zealand is the Public Good Science Fund. An application was made to that fund late last year with both of New Zealand’s principal participants in the APMRN involved. The funding decisions will be announced in May, and the hope is that the Public Good Science Fund will provide research funding for new research initiatives on migration from Asia and the Pacific Islands.

Finally, a bibliography of all recent migration research in New Zealand will be compiled during 1996. This exercise has been undertaken twice before (1986 and 1992) resulting in books which provide a bibliographic reference on migration and immigration, as well as a number of chapters which focus on key migration issues. In the past, this has been a Massey University publication, and this time, it will be produced as part of the APMRN project.

(1) Some Key Research Issues
The significant changes in New Zealand society and economy over the past 20 years have generated a number of major research questions and issues relating to migration and ethnic diversity. Amongst these are the following:

    i) the nature and impact of migration from East Asian countries, including both micro-level analysis of the adaptations of the migrant communities as well as macro-level issues such as the impact on sub-regional/regional economies and services;

    ii) policy issues such as the fit between immigration policy and domestic resource issues and provisions, and the relationship between the significance of biculturalism and the multiculturalism which is implicit in current immigration policy;

    iii) the racialisation of Asian migrants both within the Auckland context and as an issue for national policy makers;

    iv) the impact of Asian migrants on relations between New Zealand and the origin societies, including such issues as passive capital, the portability of entrepreneurial skills and the ability to trade back into the origin society from a New Zealand base;

    v) links between Asian migrant communities within the region, and the degree of further migration between New Zealand and other host societies such as Australia;

    vi) return migration from New Zealand to the micro-states of the South Pacific, and the implications of these flows for both societies;

    vi) indigenous rights issues, notions of citizenship (civic versus ethnic nationalism) and the evolution of an immigration policy that accommodates domestic and international requirements.


Bedford, R.D. 1996, ‘International migration, 1995. Some reflections on an exceptional year’, New Zealand Journal of Geography, No. 101, pp. 21–32.

Bedford, R.D. & Lidgard, J.M. 1996, ‘The vanishing border? Visa-waiver and the transformation of migration flows between New Zealand and countries in the Asia-Pacific region, 1981–1996’. Paper prepared for the Commonwealth Geographic Bureau Conference, Vanishing Borders: The New International Order in the 21st Century, Kuala Lumpur, 19–23 August 1996.

Bedford, R.D., Lidgard, J.M. & Young, J.E. 1996, International Migration and Population Change in New Zealand, 1986–1994. Hamilton, University of Waikato Population Studies Centre, Discussion Paper (in press).

Boyer, T. 1995, ‘Hone sweet home? An analysis of Taiwanese immigration since 1986, and the present status of the Taiwanese community in Auckland’, in H-k Yoon (ed.), An Ethno-Geography of Taiwanese, Japanese and Filipino Immigrants in Auckland. Occasional Paper no. 28, University of Auckland Department of Geography, Auckland.

Cohen, R. 1996, ‘Nation State’, New Community, Vol. 22, No. 1.

Heeringa, V. 1996, ‘The European Invasion’, Metro, June pp. 54–61

Ho, E.S., Chen, Y.Y. & Kim, S.N. 1996, In Search of a Better Future: Report of a Survey on Post-School Education and Employment Choices among Asian Adolescent Migrants. University of Waikato Population Studies Centre, Discussion Paper, Hamilton (in press).

Kidd, D. 1996, ‘New Zealand’s Strategic Environment’, New Zealand Centre for Japanese Studies Newsletter, April, Issue 75.

Legat, N. 1996, ‘Immigration. What have we got to fear?’, North and South, June, pp. 48–63.

Lidgard, J.E. 1996, East Asian Migration to Aotearoa/New Zealand: Perspectives of Some New Arrivals. University of Waikato Population Studies Centre, Discussion Paper No. 12, Hamilton.

Ongley, P. 1996, ‘Immigration, Employment and Ethnic Relations’, in P. Spoonley, D. Pearson & C. Macpherson (eds), Nga Patai. Racism and Ethnic Relations in Aotearoa/New Zealand, Dunmore Press, Palmerston North.

Palat, R. A. 1996, ‘Curries, Chopsticks and Kiwis: Asian Migration to Aotearoa/New Zealand’, in P. Spoonley, D. Pearson & C. Macpherson (eds), Nga Patai. Racism and Ethnic Relations in Aotearoa/New Zealand, Palmerston North, Dunmore Press.

A detailed list of references relating to recent developments in international migration in New Zealand will appear in Trlin and Spoonley’s forthcoming book, New Zealand and International Migration. A Digest and Bibliography Number 3, Massey University, Palmerston North

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