Lincoln Tan is the New Zealand Herald’s diversity, ethnic affairs and immigration senior reporter.

The Big Read: Why are migrants snubbing NZ's regions?

Glen Chen believes New Zealand's forests offer huge opportunity. Photo / Alan Gibson
Glen Chen believes New Zealand's forests offer huge opportunity. Photo / Alan Gibson

New settlers from Asia are giving the regions a wide berth, with migrants from the two main source countries preferring to set up home in Auckland.

Measures aimed at improving the spread of migrants across New Zealand were introduced last November, but new data reveals that seven in 10 migrants from China - the country's largest source of permanent migrants - are not opting to live anywhere else but Auckland.

AUT University Professor of Population Geography Richard Bedford said New Zealand's largest city is the preferred choice for migrants from China, India and other Asian countries.

"They concentrate on Auckland because of the sorts of work they want, the concentrations of their co-ethnics and, for Indians and Chinese, this is New Zealand's only sizeable city," Professor Bedford said.

The percentage of migrant applicants claiming points for employment outside Auckland has been declining.

In 2004, two out of three principal applicants claimed points for work offers in the regions, but that fell to 51 per cent in 2012.

There was a two point increase in the 2013-14 year to 53 per cent, which Professor Bedford attributed to the Canterbury rebuild.

In 2014, seven out of 10 principal applicants from the UK claimed points for employment outside Auckland, while it was the reverse for the Chinese with 68 per cent choosing Auckland.

"The migrants from Western countries tend to be attracted to the same things as New Zealanders, after all, they are not just coming to NZ to work in Auckland," said Professor Bedford.

But with China now displacing the UK as the main source country for migrants, and more migrants coming from Asia, Auckland will become more cosmopolitan and diverse, while the regions remain largely "white".

"The smaller towns and rural parts of the country will have populations that are closer to the national average in terms of diversity, and some places will be very heavily dominated by people of European and Maori ethnicities," Professor Bedford added.

"There is a very distinct economy and labour market in Auckland for immigrants from China and India," Professor Spoonley

Changes to policy include tripling the bonus points for skilled migrants with job offers outside Auckland and doubling of points for entrepreneurs planning to set up businesses in the regions.

But applicants who claim bonus points will also be required to stay away from Auckland for at least 12 months.

"These changes are designed to encourage skilled migrants and entrepreneurs to settle outside of Auckland," Immigration New Zealand spokeswoman Emma Murphy said.

Since November, 24 skilled migrant applicants have been approved with triple points - seven from South Africa, six from the United Kingdom, two each from the Philippines, Fiji and the US and one each from Austria, Canada, India, Ireland and the Netherlands.

Most intended to settle either in Canterbury, Wellington or the Bay of Plenty.

The single visa approved with bonus points under the entrepreneur category was to a Chinese applicant intending to start a business in Waikato.

In the last Census, 71 per cent of immigrants from China were found to have settled in Auckland, along with 57 per cent of people from India.

India is now the second largest source of migrants, ahead of the UK and behind China.
Migrant groups who are most likely to settle in the regions are Australians, Germans (70-71 per cent) and South Africans (50 per cent).

Massey University sociologist Paul Spoonley said the actual number of migrants heading to the regions had not gone down much, but Asian migrants moving to Auckland had spiked.

"There is a very distinct economy and labour market in Auckland for immigrants from China and India whereas many of the other groups are recruited for regional labour markets - the Filipinos in healthcare or dairying, the South Africans in the healthcare system," Professor Spoonley said.

"Key visa categories - international students, skilled migrants - are dominated by those Asian immigrant groups and occupations and they head for Auckland."

Professor Spoonley said it would be a major challenge to encourage Indians and Chinese immigrants to go to the regions, but regional recruitment could be targeted at source countries other than China or India.

Although half of Indian applicants claimed points for employment away from Auckland, many moved to Auckland after a few years.

About 57 per cent of recent Indian immigrants indicated they lived in Auckland at the last Census.

"Increasing the points value is a start but there has to be other policy changes," Professor Spoonley said.

"Equally important is the question of what the regions will do to recruit and welcome immigrants and whether there are jobs for them."

From China to Matamata

Amy Ding says Matamata is "paradise". Photo / Alan Gibson
Amy Ding says Matamata is "paradise". Photo / Alan Gibson

Chinese nurse Amy Ding cannot understand why migrants would choose to live in the city when they can be in "paradise". The 25-year-old moved from Jining City, in Shandong, four years ago and has chosen to make Matamata home.

"If I wanted to live in a city, I would have gone to Singapore or maybe even stayed on in China, not Auckland" Miss Ding said.

"I chose New Zealand because I want to be close to nature, and Matamata offers a lifestyle that is as close to nature as I can get."

Miss Ding lives in a three-bedroom house with her partner, whom she met through Bible study.

"Matamata has a community spirit that Auckland doesn't have, and something migrants to cities will never experience."

Through volunteering in local sports organisations and community groups, she has also made a few very good friends. Miss Ding said she knew about 10 Chinese families who lived in Matamata and most were running food outlets or family businesses.

"The thing about living in a little town is that almost everyone knows everyone, and we look out for each other," she said.

"The people I met have been truly amazing, and they make time to tell me stories about themselves and their lives which I just love to hear.

"Matamata has a community spirit that Auckland doesn't have, and something migrants to cities will never experience."

Matamata, with a population of 7500, is a rural farming town located near the base of the Kaimai Ranges and is known for thoroughbred horse breeding and training pursuits.

The Hobbiton Movie Set from Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings is located at a nearby farm. Miss Ding is pursuing an accountancy degree at Waikato University - which is about a 40-minute drive from where she lives.

"When I wake up to see the rolling hills and farmland every day, I feel like I am truly living in paradise," Ms Ding said.

From Korea to Rotorua

Anna Song would tell every would-be immigrant to settle in Rotorua. Photo / Alan Gibson
Anna Song would tell every would-be immigrant to settle in Rotorua. Photo / Alan Gibson

Korean immigrant Anna Song is so passionate about living in Rotorua she wants to tell every would-be migrant to consider settling there. Rotorua in the Bay of Plenty is the region's second largest urban area behind Tauranga, with a population of about 56,800.

Tourism is by far the largest industry in the district, that is also known for its geothermal activity, geysers and mudpools.

"It doesn't just offer lifestyle, but also opportunities that are far better than in cities like Auckland," said Miss Song, 32.

She first moved to New Zealand with her parents when she was 12, and grew up in Christchurch, Dunedin and Wellington.

"I feel Rotorua is my home now and I feel very privileged to be in a position where I can promote the town to others,"

Miss Song returned to Korea in 2011 to "reconnect" with her cultural roots and build her career - but found that she missed New Zealand too much. Her hometown, Jeju Island, an island off the southern coast of South Korea, is a popular tourist destination "just like Rotorua".

She jumped at the opportunity to come back to New Zealand when there was an opening for a business manager at ANZ Bank Rotorua.

"It was a perfect opportunity because I get to live somewhere that's not Auckland, and also to promote opportunities in the regions," Miss Song said.

"I travel quite a lot, but I love New Zealand so much and at the time I was feeling so homesick.

"I miss the food too, especially steak and cheese pies and cream doughnuts."
Rotorua is a major tourist destination for domestic and international visitors.

Miss Song, who returned last June, is also the vice-chairwoman of the NZ Alumni Association Korea and adviser to the NZ Chamber of Commerce.

"I feel Rotorua is my home now and I feel very privileged to be in a position where I can promote the town to others," she said.

"It is New Zealand's centre for tourism, and there are heaps of business opportunities for anyone who want to start their new lives here."

From Wisconsin to Hamilton

Danyel Hosto says the Waikato reminds her of home. Photo / Alan Gibson
Danyel Hosto says the Waikato reminds her of home. Photo / Alan Gibson

American Danyel Hosto, 28, grew up in Wisconsin where her family farms a small 60-cow Holstein Friesian herd. Now living in Hamilton, Miss Hosto said she chose to settle in the Waikato because it reminded her of home.

"Like for like, the Waikato is very much like my hometown in the States and it's been easy for me to adjust to life here," she said.

Hamilton is home to 156,800 people and is the most populous city of the Waikato region. Once an agricultural service centre, the city - New Zealand's fourth largest - is now the third fastest growing urban area in the country behind Pukekohe and Auckland.
Miss Hosto is working as a product marketing specialist at the Waikato Institute of Technology, also known as Wintec

"In my previous role, I got the chance to visit farmers around New Zealand and found the people here to be really friendly and amazing."

Education, and research and development, play a big part in the city's economy.

"It is a good feeling to know that I've got the skills that I can use to grow a key sector," said Miss Hosto, a former dairy industry marketer.

She first worked in New Zealand on a fixed term role with CRV Ambreed last year, but jumped at the opportunity to return when a full time role was available.

"In my previous role, I got the chance to visit farmers around New Zealand and found the people here to be really friendly and amazing."

Miss Hosto recently was approved in principle for residence under the skilled migrant category. Before moving to New Zealand, she had worked in the Netherlands, but said the idea of settling there never crossed her mind.

"I love the sun, and the weather there was just a little too gloomy for my liking," she said.

Miss Hosto lives in Hamilton East with two flatmates - a New Zealander and a South African.

"Migrants coming from mega cities might find the Waikato a little too quiet, but it's just perfect for me," Miss Hosto said.

From China to Turangi

Glen Chen believes New Zealand's forests offer huge opportunity. Photo / Alan Gibson
Glen Chen believes New Zealand's forests offer huge opportunity. Photo / Alan Gibson

Entrepreneur migrant Glen Chen says New Zealand's pine forests in the regions are paved with opportunities of gold. Beneath radiata pine trees in a commercial planted forest block in Turangi, the 38-year-old from China is growing a crop that is of a much higher value - ginseng.

Ginseng, a slow growing perennial herb, has been considered as an important component of traditional medicine in China and Korea.

"In central North Island alone there are 450,000 hectares of pine forests, so the opportunities are endless," said Mr Chen.

"I found New Zealand to be really beautiful, and I just wanted to live here,"

"These forests and New Zealand's climate are perfect to grow wild simulated ginseng, which is far more highly valued."

Ginseng takes about 14 years to reach maturity in China, but only seven years in New Zealand because of the climatic conditions. Mr Chen's farm is located in Turangi, on the west bank of the Tongariro River, 50km southwest of Lake Taupo. Well known for trout fishing, the town was designed to be a small servicing centre for exotic forest plantations south of the lake.

Mr Chen first came to New Zealand as a tourist in 2008, but he fell in love with the place and never went home.

"I found New Zealand to be really beautiful, and I just wanted to live here," he said.

"I extended my stay by becoming a student, but then this business opportunity came along."

The business, registered as KiwiSeng, was started by a Korean in 2003, before Mr Chen took over five years later.

"I am actually happy to live in Auckland or anywhere around the country, but I think unique opportunities are better in the regions," he said.

Mr Chen, who recently became a father, lives in Rotorua, and said living in a small town also meant he spent more time with the family.

"There are not many places we can go to after dark, so we end up spending a lot more quality time as a family."

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