The total number of ethnic Chinese in New Zealand was about 171,411 in 2013 – up from about 105,000 in 2001. This was about 4% of the national population, making the Chinese the largest non-European, non-Polynesian minority group. Within this group, three-quarters were immigrants and only one-quarter were locally born. The foreign-born proportion was made up of those from China (51%), Malaysia (6%), Taiwan (5%), Hong Kong (4%), and other countries (6%).
1987 immigration policy change
Among the immigrant Chinese, many (over 69%) were recent arrivals who came within 10 years of the 2001 census. The increase in arrivals is a new phenomenon, made possible only by the introduction of an even-handed immigration policy in 1987. This overturned New Zealand’s longstanding preference for immigrants from the United Kingdom and Ireland. From the late 1980s, any person who met the stringent educational, professional, business, age and asset requirements could gain a residence visa. Ethnic Chinese who met the criteria could now enter New Zealand in large numbers.
Income and employment
The Chinese in New Zealand today are generally high achievers, with significant skills and substantial savings. Yet while both locally born and immigrant Chinese are very well educated, their income level and participation in the labour force are below the national average.
A large number of new arrivals remain unemployed, partly because their qualifications are not recognised, and partly because of residual prejudice. Both now and in the past, Chinese have come to New Zealand in search of better opportunities. But for many, these opportunities remain out of reach.