New residents taking 12 years to catch up to Kiwi pay.

Jaspreet Singh is allowed to stay in New Zealand permanently because the Government deemed his skills useful to the country.

But the only jobs the qualified mechanical engineer has found in three years here are unskilled and lowly paid.

The 28-year-old from India is one of thousands from Asia here under Immigration New Zealand's main skilled labour policy, the skilled migrant category, with skills and qualifications that are not wanted here.

Mr Singh, who earns just over $15 an hour as an office manager in a travel company, had previously worked as a packer and an assistant manager at an Indian-owned business that paid minimum wage.

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He came to New Zealand as an international student in March 2011 and gained residency after graduating with an advanced diploma in management.

The migrant category contributes nearly half of all permanent residence approvals. India and the Philippines are now New Zealand's largest source countries for skilled migrants, ahead of the United Kingdom.

A Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment study, "Labour market integration and retention of skilled migrants", found skilled migrants from Asia are less likely to be employed than those from Europe or South Africa three years after taking residence.

Asians earned an average 21 per cent less than Europeans and South Africans earned about 7 per cent more than Europeans, according to the report.

Immigration expert and Massey University sociologist Paul Spoonley said employers here did not consider all skilled migrants as equals.

"While points are given for prior qualifications and experience, not all are treated equally in the NZ labour market.

"Employers tend to discount some qualifications and experience, especially for those job seekers from Asian source countries," he said.

"The single most important factor in getting a job is English language ability, but then a range of other factors kick in, including having to adjust to a very different business and linguistic environment."

Professor Spoonley said employers regarded migrants from countries like the United Kingdom as "more like us" and the lack of New Zealand experience remained a major barrier for many.

South African migration was dominated by professional job seekers and many arrived here as experienced and senior health professionals who got well-paid jobs, he said.

The report also found that former international students who became residents had much lower incomes than migrants approved offshore.

Professor Spoonley said like other graduates, former international students moved jobs frequently in the first five to eight years, and were therefore not well paid.

His research found it took a migrant about 12 years to "catch up" to a New Zealand-born employee with the same qualifications and experience.

Migrants with higher qualifications were also less likely to leave, but this was not surprising, the authors of the report said, "given the international competition for highly skilled migrants in times of global economic growth".

Skilled settlers
• 21,165 approved under skilled migrant category
• 21% from India, largest source country
• 13% from Philippines, ahead of the UK's 11%
• 17% of international students became permanent residents as skilled migrants
• 21% - how much less Asians earned compared to European migrants
Source: Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment.