When university graduate Adon Kumar came to New Zealand from Malaysia in the 70s, the only job he could get was in a rubbish-bag factory. Today, Kumar, a tertiary Esol lecturer, says little has changed for professional migrants - something Government, employers and migrants are equally responsible for.

"The Government's policy in opening avenues for the migration of skilled workers is laudable but many skilled migrants feel duped into coming here," says Kumar.

He says when skilled migrants qualify under the immigration system, have their professional qualifications validated by NZQA, and their skills matched to New Zealand's skills shortages list, they feel assured of being able to continue their careers.

After arrival, some instead discover they need to gain New Zealand registration or re-qualification, an expensive, time-consuming and stressful process where migrants pay to study skills they know backwards.

This problem creates resentment and contributes to the infamous truth of migrant nurses, teachers and engineers driving taxis or stacking supermarket shelves.

"Wouldn't it be great if the Immigration Service highlighted the risks migrants take by packing up and coming here? Then only the migrants would be to blame for their decisions," says Kumar.

The Immigration Service would argue it does. And why can't migrants tell each other about the realities? Kumar says it is possible they deliberately gloss over the truth.

"I have a Malaysian Indian friend with a British accountancy qualification who is driving a bus. Another is a parking warden. I am certain they don't write home about it," says Kumar.

Now 55, Kumar has lived and worked in New Zealand for 32 years and moved from the IT sector to Esol teaching through a desire to help. He learned from his own experience that succeeding as a migrant means climbing down from cloud nine to ground zero.

"Many professional migrants need to work harder at their English and develop a Kiwi social network. You can adapt, adopt and assimilate into the New Zealand culture while maintaining a unique ethnic identity," he says.

He says professional pride and the associated incredulity migrants feel when they can't get work in their area of proficiency can be off-putting for New Zealand employers, who tend to respect people for the way they present themselves rather than for their career background.

"It is reasonable for New Zealand employers to worry a non-European migrant might not fit in to their business culture. They know it's easy to hire and hard to fire," says Kumar.

Although they are typically well qualified, loyal and hard working, skilled migrants can lack an understanding of the inter-personal skills important to an employer. "Most don't appreciate that it is not technical or professional skills but networking, language, customer service, and the ability to write reports and make oral and written presentations that helps secure a job," says Kumar.

While mixing with New Zealanders is important to employment success for a skilled migrant, prejudicial attitudes can make that networking a nightmare. "When certain MPs talk about what should be done about, and to, migrants, migrants get upset and employers start prejudging on misconceptions and ignorance. Often their perceptions are the result of hearing one negative story," says Kumar.

He says language and accent differences are a further barrier to migrant/employer relations, and this is exacerbated when the migrant thinks their English is "hotter" than it is.

"When I came here I spoke English, had completed the Cambridge School Certificate and had a university degree in English. But I found Kiwis couldn't understand me and I couldn't understand them," says Kumar.

To help to maintain sanity during his $3-an-hour stint in the rubbish-bag factory, Kumar took a night-school course in computer programming, then progressed through the information technology services sector working for IT firms Unisys, ComputerLand, Southmark and Fujitsu, at times for salaries in excess of $100,000.

Kumar was often the only migrant and more often the only Asian to hold a management position in the companies that employed him.

"Even today, an [Asian] migrant holding a senior position in the New Zealand private sector is a rarity," he says.

It seems unlikely this will change - Asian migration to New Zealand is dropping. Since 2001, the number of Chinese migrants has dropped from 8500 to 3455 for the year to mid April, a decrease of 40 per cent. In the same period, Indian migrants dropped from 8430 to 2307, a decrease of around 27 per cent. While this may please those opposed to all migration Kumar says it is a loss.

"Migrants bring diversity and a rich cultural heritage into the New Zealand workforce. They work very hard, they are loyal. They can open up valuable business network opportunities for their employers. Migrants show a lot of respect for their employers."

Steps to finding employment for the skilled migrant

For migrants

* New Zealand employers expect people to be competitive, friendly, relaxed, confident, and assertive. Learn what this means. Practise the necessary communication skills.

* Employers want to know about you . Talk about your hobbies and interests, what you enjoy about life, your family.

* Be prepared to take a lower position in a related field. This may help you to gain work soon after arriving. For example, if you are a doctor and find you can't work try a related medical field, or medical sales.

* Don't run away from language problems. Push through any prejudice and do everything you can to build networks with English-speaking New Zealanders. Join a church or a sports club and talk to New Zealanders.

* When you arrive , you don't have to change your God but you must face reality. If religious beliefs require you to wear clothing that is unfamiliar to New Zealanders, it may help to briefly refer to your appearance in an interview and explain what you are wearing and why.

* You may be desperate, but don't lose your dignity and plead for a job. It won't work and will diminish your confidence

* Formal professional qualifications from your home country are not a guarantee of professional employment at the same level in New Zealand. Spread the word.

For employers

* Try to look beyond cultural differences. Realise that a quiet, shy personality does not necessarily equate to a person who will not be diligent and determined at work.

* Look beyond any physical, language and clothing differences and you may find the best employee you will ever hire. If qualifications and many other factors stack up, be prepared to take a risk.

* Talk to your staff. How do they feel about migrants to New Zealand? Are they comfortable working alongside people from different cultures? Often, the fears of a CEO or senior manager are not borne out by the wider organisation.