Asians ditch identities in hunt for jobs

By Lincoln Tan

Terence King. Photo / Greg Bowker
Terence King. Photo / Greg Bowker

Desperate job-seeking Asians are not only taking on Anglicised first names but also officially ditching their traditional surnames for European-sounding ones in the hope that will help them find work in New Zealand.

One Chinese woman even changed her name to Brenda Jones in an attempt to get a job interview in the tough economic climate.

About 21,000, or 9.2 per cent, of the Asian population are without jobs, and experts say their foreign-sounding names have contributed to their unemployment woes.

Massey University researcher Paul Spoonley says New Zealand employers, especially in small and medium-sized businesses, tend to eliminate Asian applicants very early in the process through surname discrimination.

"We have a lot of research and anecdotal evidence that New Zealand employers are reluctant to employ Asians, so changing surnames is a novel way of getting a CV read," he said.

Last year, people born in Asia formed most of the overseas-born people who sought to have their names changed with the Department of Internal Affairs.

Since March last year, 2029 immigrants have registered to change their names, with the top five countries of origin being Samoa (291), China (264), India (152), Iraq (98) and Malaysia (97).

Although Samoans topped the department's name-change register, the Weekend Herald understands many of these were to add chiefly titles rather than adopt Anglicised names.

Other countries with significant numbers include Taiwan, South Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia and Singapore.

Asian immigrants told the Weekend Herald they changed their names in a desperate attempt to find work.

Most did not want to be identified because they thought it could jeopardise their job hunt.

The Chinese immigrant who changed her name to Brenda Jones said she did so after failing to get a single job interview when her former classmates, European New Zealanders who graduated from the same IT course, were getting employed.

"I was feeling very desperate and very small," she said. "Changing my name is not something I am proud of doing, but I really didn't know what else to do."

Another, who changed her surname from Teoh to May with an English first name, said a job interviewer at Work and Income advised her to do so.

"She told me that with an Asian surname, employers will automatically think that I cannot speak English," said Miss May, a former retail manager.

A University of Auckland School of Business survey in 2005 found anti-Asian discrimination to be significant among employers.

It found that even without immigration status consideration, having a Chinese or Indian name significantly raised chances of being considered unsuitable.

Chinese applicants with Anglicised first names were considered slightly less unsuitable than those with traditional names.

Justin Treagus, director of Omega, a programme which uses a mentoring scheme to help immigrants find employment, says the recession has aggravated discrimination.

"I think the economic recession has brought many Kiwi employers back to their old habits, and maybe even made it worse."

One Asian immigrant, who changed his surname from Wang to King, believes it has worked for him.

Lai Ming Wang, now Terence King, says it got him an interview that eventually landed him a bank job.

"I got that job interview only after submitting my CV with my new surname, and getting that interview meant I could prove that I am well versed in English and have the ability to do the job," he said.

An Internal Affairs spokesman says only those who are New Zealand citizens or permanent residents with indefinite visas can register for an official name change - but others are still free to use Anglicised names unofficially.

Race Relations Commissioner Joris de Bres says it is unlawful under the Human Rights Act to refuse immigrants a job or an interview because of their ethnicity or race.

"It takes away someone's chance to be judged on their merits and it goes against the idea of New Zealand as a fair society."

- NZ Herald

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