Korean immigrants are turning to Christianity for salvation and to improve their business and social lives, Massey University research has found.

About 90 per cent of almost 31,000 Koreans in New Zealand are regular churchgoers, despite Buddhism being the main religion of South Korea, where about a fifth of the population are Christians.

The Massey report, Kimchi Networks: Korean employers and employees in Auckland, co-authored by sociologists Carina Meares, Paul Spoonley and Robin Peace, found church support to be crucial for Koreans settling in New Zealand.

Dr Meares said most Christian denominations - including Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian and Catholic - now had branches with Korean ministers and services in Korean.

People attending these churches did so for religious reasons, but also as a way to network for business and to find information and support.

New immigrant Sue Kim, 32, said the Korean Catholic community had been vital for providing information on immigration matters, housing and finding a school for her 7-year-old son.

"I am not a Christian, and I only started attending a Korean Catholic church because I didn't have any friends,"said Mrs Kim, who moved to New Zealand in June.

"But it is through people in the church that I have found a house to rent, school for my son and also how to sponsor my parents to come here."

The report said a magazine advertisement for a Korean church even said: "Which church you decide togo to determines your immigration success."

Koreans face many settlement issues, and many tell of a drop in income and job status, difficulties with English and finding it hard to be accepted by the wider community.

About 75 per cent of the 20 Korean employers and 20 employees interviewed said they had faced some form of discrimination.

"Customers occasionally come and say, 'Go back to your country'," said a respondent.

"When I walk in the streets, teenagers swear and spit at me."

Said another: "When I drive, people point out that I'm Asian and swear at me."

Earning less in New Zealand also meant many could not live the same lifestyles they were used to in South Korea.

"Compared to Korea, a bad thing is ... the income is low but expenses are high, I feel insecure financially," one said.

"In Korea, we went out for nice food every weekend but here we eat every single meal at home ... Here, if I buy something, I have to think it over 10 times. It's very different from who I was in Korea."

Koreans were the fastest-growing Asian group between 1986 and 1996 - rising from 400 to 12,653. At the last Census, Koreans numbered 30,792. Most of them live on Auckland's North Shore.

The report found Koreans, like the Chinese, relied heavily on their own networks and contacts for business and employment, although they expressed a strong desire to be fully integrated with mainstream society.

New arrivals flock to join

A lack of Koreans in immigrant settlement services is bringing more Korean immigrants to seek support from churches, says Pastor Israel Park.

Mr Park, 40, who is youth minister at Hanouri Presbyterian in Glenfield, New Zealand's largest Korean church, says membership numbers have swelled from 1000 to 1500 in five years.

Hundreds more also come to church for non-worship activities, such as language courses, music lessons and cooking classes.

"You find hardly any Koreans at the city council, immigration or the citizens advice bureau. So many feel out of place because they don't speak good English," Mr Park said.

"In church they feel at home, culturally and linguistically. That is why we feel the church should also be a community centre, and not just for worship."

Pita Jee, 47, who heads the community activities section, says some who take courses at the church end up starting their own businesses.

"We don't offer business courses, but those who take up cooking or flower arrangements do start their own restaurants and shops," Mr Jee said.

Auckland has more than 60 Korean churches.

The Kimichi Network report found churches are an important part of networking and support for Koreans.