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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Filipinos seeking work overseas often use immigration agencies in the Philippines, which for a fee arrange immigration papers, employment and airfares. Many come to New Zealand on temporary work visas that are renewed if they can arrange ongoing work. They hope that after gaining skills and a work record they can apply for permanent residence and ultimately citizenship.
From 1998 Filipino nurses began to arrive in growing numbers, but many were exploited by agents, who charged exorbitant fees and gave misleading information about New Zealand registration and employment. Often migrant nurses ended up as caregivers in rest homes, working long hours to pay back their agents. In addition, some employers offered lower wages and less favourable conditions than New Zealand-born nurses received. Awareness of this exploitation led to the establishment of support groups and improved information for Filipino nurses intending to come to New Zealand. In 2007 a ground-breaking agreement was reached between the Philippine government and the Counties Manukau District Health Board to recruit Filipino nurses directly, bypassing agencies. In 2015, of the 52,729 nurses practising in New Zealand, 3,688 indicated Filipino as their ethnicity, and 3,273 were trained in the Philippines. They represented around 9% of people with Filipino ethnicity in New Zealand.
In 2006 Filipino Sam Bruzo arrived to work in the dairy industry, but the cold weather, hard labour and isolation got to him: ‘[W]e need to have social interaction otherwise we will go crazy’.1 Collecting the phone number of every Filipino he met, he invited them to his birthday party, and other social occasions followed. These gatherings led to the formation of Filipino Dairy Workers in New Zealand (Inc) in 2007.
From 2006 increasing numbers of Filipino dairy workers were recruited to work in the dairy industry, which was going through a period of expansion and suffering from a serious skills shortage. The number of temporary work permits for Filipino dairy workers rose from 16 in 2003/4 (3% of all permits issued for dairy work) to 866 in 2010/11 (51% of the total). Many struck similar problems to Filipino nurses, being exploited both by immigration agents and employers. Some farmers paid less than the minimum wage and made their workers toil long hours. Though prohibited by law, these breaches were difficult for inspectors to detect because of rural workers’ isolation. Filipinos in Canterbury responded to the problem by forming Filipino Dairy Workers in New Zealand (Inc), an advocacy organisation that aimed to overcome employment abuses by educating workers, upskilling them and providing support for them and their families.
Among Filipinos, traditional values of pakikisama (smooth social interaction), amor propio (self-esteem), utang na loob (reciprocity) and the extended family are important. The American influence is also strong – shopping at malls and playing and watching sport are popular. What rugby is to New Zealanders, basketball is to Filipinos.
Filipinos have introduced their distinctive cuisine to New Zealand. Filipino restaurants have operated since the early 1980s, when Mrs Bautista’s Blades restaurant offered Wellingtonians paksiw na lechon (pork in liver sauce).
Initially many found the Kiwi accent difficult to comprehend. Today almost all Filipinos speak English and the majority are bilingual. In New Zealand’s Filipino homes it is common to hear ‘Tag-lish’, a mixture of Tagalog (the main Filipino language) and English.
One legacy of over three centuries of Spanish rule is that the Philippines is the only predominantly Christian nation in South-East Asia. In 2013 most migrants were Roman Catholics. Christian faith is very important to Filipinos and inspires many to support programmes to alleviate poverty, improve education and health and provide disaster relief in the Philippines.
In the mid-1990s Auckland’s Bayanihan Club ran a basketball league every Sunday at the Mt Albert recreation centre, where teams such as ‘Prime Steak Beef’ and ‘Geyserland’ battled it out. An observer remarked: ‘Going to these games is like being in Manila …There are people selling Filipino food and delicacies throughout the game; Filipino magazines and newspapers are also available, and Filipino movies are available for hire. A Filipino hairdresser is also around.’1
The first Filipino club was established in Auckland in 1976 with just 20 members. By the 2000s there were dozens of Filipino organisations around the country, including community, hometown, sports and cultural associations, as well as church groups and charitable trusts. The Council of Auckland Philippine Organisations (CAPO) and the Federation of Filipino Associations, Clubs and Societies of New Zealand co-ordinate the activities of many of these groups. Events often include cultural performances, basketball tournaments and beauty pageants.
The Filipino media in New Zealand is an effective means of spreading information and coordinating activities. A short-lived newsletter, Filipiniana, appeared in Wellington in the early 1980s. Auckland’s Diario Filipino, first printed in 1999 with a circulation of 200 copies, went online in 2000, and later other websites such as Filipino Migrant News and The New Zealand Filipino appeared. In the early 2000s an Auckland Filipino radio show, Tinig Pinoy, began. It announced community events, played Original Pilipino (Filipino) Music (known as OPM), and featured presenters with colourful names such as Ela ‘the Flame’ and Niño ‘Woofman’ Deomano. In the 2010s there were other community radio programmes for Filipinos, and Filipino radio stations including Mabuhay FM and Pinoy Radio Online.
The New Zealand Filipino community unites to mark Philippine Independence Day (12 June), which commemorates the day in 1898 that the Philippines declared independence from Spanish rule. Celebrations include a flag-raising ceremony, religious services and other events. With a foot in each culture, by the 2000s many Kiwi Filipinos had dubbed themselves ‘Fiwis’.
The New Zealand census figures listed here show the number of residents born in the Philippines.
In the 2006 and 2013 censuses, people were asked to indicate the ethnic group or groups with which they identified. The numbers include those who indicated more than one group.
Baral, H. ‘Filipino migrants in Auckland.’ In An ethno-geography of Taiwanese, Japanese and Filipino immigrants in Auckland, edited by Hong-Key Yoon. Occasional paper 28, Dept of Geography, University of Auckland, 1995.
Alayon, John Richard. Migration, remittances and development: the Filipino New Zealand experience. MPhil thesis, Auckland University of Technology, 2009.
Lana Hart. ‘The families Filipino workers leave behind.’ Press, 16 August 2014, C1-2.
This website has a brief history of the federation and links to Filipino community organisations around New Zealand.
A website focused on Filipino-Kiwis who live and work in the Greater Auckland region. It also provides links to sister sites about Filipinos in Christchurch, Hamilton and Wellington.