Would-be immigrants from China will be most affected by changes to the parent category, an immigration expert says.

The Government announced today if would be temporarily closing the parent category to new applicants and reducing the number of family sponsorship immigration places from 5500 to 2000 a year.

"The parent category is most used by immigrants from China so they will be the ones largely affected by the reduction," said Massey University sociologist Professor Paul Spoonley.

Last year 5739 were granted residency under the parent category, which had ranged from 4401 to 6364 over the last 10 years.

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China is the largest source country for family-sponsored migrants and made up 50 per cent of residence approvals in the parent category.

"I am not convinced that we are seeing too many approvals under this category but if the total number is to be reduced, then associated categories need to be adjusted," Spoonley said.

According to Immigration New Zealand data released to the Herald, nearly 11,000 of migrants older than 50 who entered New Zealand within the NZ Residence Programme were from China.

Spoonley said he was concerned at the tougher English language standards required.

"The single most important factor in successful settlement is English language ability or acquisition, but I am concerned at the message it sends to source countries," he said.

"In the late 1990s, when we did something similar, Asian countries saw it the move to tighten English language requirements as exclusionary."

Last year China was the largest source country of permanent migrants to New Zealand on 17 per cent, followed by India 16 per cent and the United Kingdom 11 per cent.