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

Do migrants dilute the New Zealand identity?

Migrants do not dilute New Zealand's cultural identity despite more coming from non-traditional source countries, experts say.

Last year, China was the biggest source country for permanent residents and international students, and India was the largest source for temporary foreign workers.

The New New Zealanders report released this week by the New Zealand initiative said approval ratings for migrants among native-born Kiwis for migrants from India and China, at 6 points, was lower than that of arrivals from the United Kingdom and Australia at 7 points out of a possible 10.

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"While many of the concerns New Zealanders have about immigration can be assessed empirically, other concerns strike a deeper chord which evidence cannot prove or disprove - the concern that a large inflow of people from abroad could threaten our national identity," the report authors said.

The Asian population in the most recent census rose 33 per cent since 2006 and the Middle Eastern, Latin American and African up by 35 per cent.

There are also concerns that New Zealand's "open door immigration policies" was putting the country at risk of extremism.

"It would be naive to think New Zealand is immune from terror threats," the report said.

Security experts had warned that terror events here were almost "inevitable".

Among New Zealand's top three source countries for quota refugees are Syria and Afghanistan, two countries ranked in the top five most active terrorist countries by the Global Terrorism Index.

The report authors, however, said the safety risk was linked to how well or poorly a country integrates its migrant populations.

"New Zealand fares well on these terms," they said.

"Migrants overall do not tend to live in ethnic clusters. Even where ethnicity is concentrated, this is correlated with lower levels of employment."

Migrants were less likely than native-born New Zealanders to claim a benefit, and their children also achieved higher levels of education.

"These factors indicate New Zealand has the soft factors of migration right for now," they said.

"When foreigners move here, they generally become part of society, as opposed to an ethnic group distinct from it."

The report concluded that based on these measures, the risk of the immigration system acting as a pathway for extremists is low.

Professor Paul Spoonley, Massey University immigration expert. Photo / Dean Purcell
Professor Paul Spoonley, Massey University immigration expert. Photo / Dean Purcell

Massey University sociologist Paul Spoonley said the number of New Zealanders who were anxious about immigrants and current levels of immigration was lower than elsewhere, including Australia.

Spoonley added that New Zealand's immigration and selection system also targeted skilled and educated immigrants, who were more likely to integrate and settle well after arrival.

David Wong, president of the Chinese New Zealand Oral History Foundation, didn't think migrants diluted New Zealand's cultural identity.

"On the contrary, I think it is broadening it and I think migrants are enriching it, and I think it's good for New Zealand's national identity," Wong said.

David Wong, president of the Chinese New Zealand Oral History Foundation. Photo / Dean Purcell
David Wong, president of the Chinese New Zealand Oral History Foundation. Photo / Dean Purcell

Data from the New Zealand Election Survey suggested that many New Zealanders did not agree that migrants, if integrated well, would not harm the host culture.

In 2011, 44.4 per cent agreed with the statement "Immigration threatens the uniqueness of our culture and society" and in 2005, 38.4 per cent felt "Immigration is a threat to the New Zealand way of life".

"Of course, some of this fear is rooted in bigotry, but this does not mean such views should be dismissed, especially when the concern is shared by already marginalised groups such as Maori," the authors said.

Maori were significantly less favourable towards immigration than other New Zealanders, and more likely to want reduced immigration numbers.

The New Zealand General Social survey found nearly nine in 10, or 87 per cent of migrants felt they belonged to New Zealand.

They also exhibited relatively high mental and physical health and life satisfaction.
But the report identified the exploitation of migrant workers as a concern.

Last year, an Auckland employer, Faroz Ali, was found guilty of 15 human trafficking related charges for bringing Fijian workers here under false pretences.

He employed them illegally and they were made to work long hours for little or no pay.

The lack of official statistics due to the criminal nature of exploitation, however, made gathering data difficult to know how widespread the problem was.

Russian Kiwi Olga Ovsyannikova at home in Auckland. Photo / Doug Sherring
Russian Kiwi Olga Ovsyannikova at home in Auckland. Photo / Doug Sherring

Russian's mission is sharing her culture

Olga Ovsyannikova's mission since making New Zealand her home has been to share her Russian culture.

The 34-year-old former police officer from Khabarovsk does not think that what she's doing diluted New Zealand's identity, but was rather adding to it.

"Maori are the original people, but now New Zealand's identity is a multicultural one," Ovsyannikova said.

"Events promoting different cultures helps foster better understanding, and in today's context, that is very important to keep the peace in this country."

There are now about 220 recorded ethnicities living in Auckland and one in four is born overseas.

Between the last two censuses the Russian population increased by 23.6 per cent, this followed an increase of 53.8 per cent between 2001 and 2006.

There are now about 6000 Russians here and six in 10 lived in the Auckland region.

"I may be European, but no matter how I work on my language or my accent, I will always be Russian," said Ovsyannikova.

"Integration must be both ways, it is important for migrants to respect the majority culture, but it is just as important for Kiwis to respect the cultures of where the migrants come from."

Among the events Ovsyannikova organises are the annual Miss Russia NZ contest, Miss National NZ and the Masquerade Ball.

"I try to bring my culture to the forefront through organising these events, and I also organise charity events where we can also bring attention to other Russian issues," she said.

Ovsyannikova said she fell in love with New Zealand during her travels here, and decided to move here in 2011.

Coming first as a student, her biggest obstacles in settling here were language and a lack of cultural understanding.

"We Russians are very straightforward and direct people, but that can be seen as being rude in this country," she said.

"I decided then that having events to help Russians and other New Zealanders connect was the best way to help overcome some of these misunderstandings."

Ovsyannikova is married to a New Zealander and became a permanent resident under the partnership category.

- NZ Herald

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