China has for the first time outstripped New Zealand's traditional source of family immigration - the United Kingdom - to produce the highest number of new residents through the Family Sponsored Stream and the Partnership policy.
Figures issued today in the Department of Labour's Migration Trends and Outlook also show that last year, for the second time in five years, China was New Zealand's top source of new immigrants aged 20 and over.
There were 6361 new Chinese residents aged 20 and over, topping the UK's 6302.
China also produced the highest number of new residents through the Parent Sibling Adult Child Stream and the Parent policy.
"The growth in Chinese immigrant numbers overall reflects the fact that increasing numbers of Chinese nationals are choosing to study here, gain recognised qualifications and then compete for and obtain skilled employment in New Zealand," said Immigration Minister Jonathan Coleman.
Dr Coleman said New Zealand's immigration policy was designed "to attract the type of migrants we want". Family policies were aimed at reuniting close family members, with caps on numbers of parents and adult siblings who could be approved in any year.
Professor Paul Spoonley, a Massey University immigration researcher, said New Zealand's immigration policies and "centre of gravity" requirements made it easy for Chinese nationals to sponsor parents and family members to come to New Zealand because of China's one-child policy.
"Unless there's a major shift in policy, this trend of more Chinese coming is unlikely to change," said Professor Spoonley.
"New Zealanders are very poor at learning a second language, but if we look at the immigration trend, it would make sense for Kiwis to start learning Mandarin, for their own personal economic and social good."
He said the new Chinese immigrants were an "untapped resource" to help New Zealand exporters and businesses to tap into the Chinese market.
A total of 46,097 people were granted permanent residence in New Zealand last year, 62 per cent of them from the skilled and business stream.
Overall, the UK was still the biggest source with 8641 new residents - but 2339 were aged 19 or younger, possibly children of the main applicants.
Most of the new Chinese residents were either aged 20-29 (4202) or aged 50 and over (1146), and business analyst Keng Lim said it showed New Zealand was not getting the "right type" of Chinese immigrants.
"Those in their 20s are probably former international students or just starting out in their careers and will be unlikely to be in a financial position to support their elderly parents," he said.
"Those aged 50 years and above are likely to be sponsored parents or grandparents who do not speak English, struggle to integrate and add a strain to our health and housing resources."
He said that because most from the UK were 30 to 44 years (3417) they would have a "better lifetime value".
"These are people who are in their mid-careers and in a more financially stable position."
Labour's China-born list MP, Raymond Huo, said the rise in numbers of Chinese immigrants was just part of "the natural progression of things" which was a reality New Zealand must learn to face.
"Since New Zealand parted ways with Britain and the union with Australia in 1973, Labour and National governments that came after that time have agreed to look towards forging a closer relationship with Asia, rather than sticking to just Europe or the United States."
He said most Chinese immigrants chose to settle in Auckland.