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

Concern as more older migrants left alone

Grandparents are often forgotten when they are no longer needed for childcare, a social worker says. Photo / iStock
Grandparents are often forgotten when they are no longer needed for childcare, a social worker says. Photo / iStock

The growing number of elderly Chinese migrants entering New Zealand to reunite with family and being left alone is a major concern, an immigration expert says.

In data released exclusively to the Herald, Immigration New Zealand revealed that since 2011, nearly 11,000 of the migrants older than 50 who entered New Zealand within the NZ Residence Programme are from China.

The figure is about four times more than the UK and India, which are second and third on the table, and more than half of the total 21,742 approved in the last five years.

Massey University sociologist Paul Spoonley said New Zealand's immigration policy targets those who can contribute economically, and most tend to be working age.

"But they leave their parents behind and at some point that becomes a concern," said Professor Spoonley.

It is not known how many parents are being left in New Zealand by absent sponsors, but figures obtained under the Official Information Act by the Herald in 2013 showed 31 per cent of the 3000 sponsors who left were Chinese.

"New Zealand does allow for family reunification ... but there does need to be close monitoring that these family units stay in New Zealand.

"They have a key responsibility, if they sponsor family members, to look after them after arrival."

A Chinese social worker who did not want to be named said many sponsored their parents to be caregivers of their children.

However, they are often left to fend for themselves once they are no longer needed or when the children have grown, they said.
"Isolation is a major concern ... lack of mobility, loss of friends, this is compounded for elderly Chinese if they do not speak English," Professor Spoonley said.

"Community centres and activities are important, but they do not replace family."

Age Concern Auckland chief executive Kevin Lamb said the size of the problem was considerable.

"We know that up to 10 per cent of all over-65s suffer from acute loneliness and isolation and that this in itself can lead to a deterioration of health and wellbeing," he said.

"Obviously with the growing number of older Chinese in Auckland, this issue is set to rise considerably."

Community centres and activities are important, but they do not replace family.
Sociologist Paul Spoonley

Mr Lamb said there was a total lack of support available for those who were unable to proactively engage, either because of lack of knowledge, confidence or poor English.

"Ageing in New Zealand can be challenging even if you have grown up with the systems and been immersed in the cultural norms," said Mr Lamb.

"But for those who are potentially ignorant of these, it can be especially daunting."

An Immigration NZ spokeswoman said the agency did not currently have any research on settlement outcomes of elderly migrants.

Jenny Wang, executive director of Chinese New Settlers Services Trust, said Chinese elderly were a vulnerable group and research was needed to better understand what was needed for them and other ageing ethnic migrants.

A Statistics New Zealand report has showed an overall increase in the number of people living alone.

The report, "Two's a crowd: Living alone in New Zealand", showed that in 2013, 355,000 people lived alone - 47,000 more than in 2001.

One in five lived alone because their spouse had died or their relationship broke up.

Most elderly people living alone were women, because they lived longer than men.

- NZ Herald

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