Story: Filipinos

Page 1. Arrivals and settlement

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Although the majority of Filipinos arrived from the 1990s, a handful had settled decades earlier – the 1936 census records six people born in the ‘Philippine Islands’.

Numbers remained small during the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s, and in 1971 there were only 101 people in New Zealand who had been born in the Philippines. The population began to grow more rapidly in the 1980s and 1990s, and by 2001 there were 10,134 people born in the Philippines. Between 2006 and 2013 numbers more than doubled, from 15,285 to 37,302. In 2013, 40,350 people claimed Filipino ethnicity – pointing to a significant New Zealand-born population.

Reasons for immigrating

Filipinos have come to New Zealand as part of a worldwide diaspora. This escalated from the 1970s, driven by political instability and corruption, high unemployment and economic inequality in the Philippines, and job and lifestyle opportunities in other countries. The Philippine government actively encourages its people to work overseas and send home remittances to assist family members, thereby contributing to economic growth.

Working holiday

In the early 1980s a group of Filipino students formed close links with Wellington’s Philippine embassy (established in 1976), and became its unofficial cultural troupe. Touring the country during holidays, their performances featured folk dances and a pangkat kawayan (bamboo orchestra), using the embassy’s musical instruments.


Students began arriving in the 1960s on scholarships under the Colombo Plan. By 2015 over 1,000 Filipino students were studying in New Zealand each year. A small number of postgraduate scholarships were offered for students, especially those studying agricultural development, renewable energy, disaster risk management, public-sector management, private-sector development and English language teaching.

Women migrants

In the 1980s most migrants were young women, many of whom had met New Zealand men through friends or by answering newspaper personal advertisements. A few were even ‘mail-order brides’. There were over twice as many Filipino women as men in New Zealand in 1991. Gradually, however, the gender imbalance reduced and by 2013, 56% of the Filipino ethnic group in New Zealand was female.

Occupational openings

Skilled migrants arrived to work in the IT industry from the late 1980s and in the health sector (as doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals) from the late 1990s. The immigration rules of the late 1980s and early 1990s, which favoured skilled migrants, made it easier for them to settle. From the early 2000s New Zealand became a more popular destination for Filipinos. Some Filipino migrants had become aware of the country through the Lord of the rings movies. There was an influx of technicians and electricians, who found work with telecommunications and power companies, and rural workers, who were employed in horticulture and agriculture, pushing the Filipino population up. Following the Christchurch earthquakes of 2010 and 2011, over 1,000 Filipinos arrived on temporary work visas to help with the rebuild of the city.


By 2013, 50.8% of people who identified with the Filipino ethnic group lived in the Auckland region, 12.7% in the Wellington region and 12.1% in Canterbury.

How to cite this page:

Carl Walrond, 'Filipinos - Arrivals and settlement', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 1 April 2020)

Story by Carl Walrond, published 8 Feb 2005, reviewed & revised 10 Sep 2015