New arrivals are adding to, not subtracting from, New Zealand's future.

Once upon a time, when I was a features reporter for the Herald, I was sent to do a story about refugee communities in Hamilton.

To this day - while everyone is obsessed with our treatment of migrant-of-the-moment Mr K. Dotcom - I still wonder what became of those rather less newsworthy Somalis and Ethiopians who were trying to make Waikato their home.

One Somali family of seven had been housed next to extremely hostile Maori neighbours, who did their best to prove racism isn't always a white-on-brown thing by ceaselessly taunting the new arrivals.

As they sat quietly recounting their story, the father lifted his shirt to show me two bullet wounds he'd received in his home country's long civil war. He was bullish about his future in New Zealand and ecstatic to be here.


In another tiny flat, a Muslim woman with no English, no money nor transportation, no husband or family, sat with her 2-month-old baby for company, day after day. She, too, thought she was in a better place - for her child, at least.

Of course these are refugee stories; more wrenching than the average immigrant tale.

Yet when daily life throws me into contact with people who have come from all over the globe to be here, the question is never far from my mind: will the immigrants' dreams of a better life in NZ come true?

If they do, I'm not sure it's because of anything we actually do. Lately I have come to know a young South African couple who are trying to immigrate here, and in the process are having to jump through more hoops than a circus dog. No surprises there, of course, and they seem to believe the process is worth it. But here are two qualified, enthusiastic, passionate would-be taxpayers who could just as easily settle anywhere in the world - and just may, if it becomes too hard.

Given the number of young, bright New Zealanders leaving the country each day, surely it won't be long before our most productive class of worker is "new migrant"; we need quality immigration to fuel the country's economic growth and to continue making it a much more interesting country to live in.

Perhaps we need to educate ourselves anew on why properly-managed immigration is a net positive for NZ.

Creating a country where new residents have a long-term optimistic outlook for prosperity is important (not only for them but for locals as well).

This can't happen when lots of highly trained people with CV-unfriendly names are driving cabs and working at fast-food drive-throughs.

Recently, an article in the US online 'zine The Wilson Quarterly - called "Beyond the Brain" - detailed a new understanding of schizophrenia and how scientific thinking has moved away from the "bio-bio-bio" model (brain lesion, genetic cause, pharmacological cure) towards an understanding that the condition has a "social" aspect; environment plays a role in developing the disease.

As author Tanya Marie Luhrmann writes, dark-skinned migrants to Britain are 10 times more likely to develop schizophrenia than Europeans.

Anthropologists studying those communities have recorded their "stinging sense of being unwanted and out of place". There was also a "social world shot through with hostility and anger, in which people were isolated and often intensely lonely... racism lay at the root of the problem, but the tangible distress was the sense of being hopelessly trapped".

Putting aside schizophrenia, do our immigrants, especially those with dark skins or Asian features, feel isolated, lonely or distressed in this country? We hope not, but if so, what a lost opportunity on so many levels.

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* Illustration by Anna Crichton: