New migrants with money and ideas could be worth millions to our economy - but a poverty of opportunity is driving them across the Tasman. Australia, they say, is less racist. Heather McCracken reports.
New Zealanders don't judge others, says the website selling our country to potential migrants.
"We don't judge people on how they sound, what colour they are, how they vote, where they go to church, where they live or the type of car they drive," says the information page for Immigration New Zealand,
That sounds good - a place you'd want to live, raise your family, work hard at your job. Those thinking of trying their luck with an unknown, far-flung country at the bottom of the world might well be swayed.
Here's what it doesn't say: You might miss out on jobs because the boss can't pronounce your name.
You might have trouble renting a house because you look different.
You might be better off in Australia.
A new book released tomorrow by AUT associate professor Edwina Pio, Longing and Belonging, charts the experience of people from Asia, the Middle East, Africa and Latin America who have taken a chance on an unknown country.
Launched to coincide with Race Relations Day today, the book explores those who are the face of migration in New Zealand, who are what Pio calls our "visible diversity".
But while Pio, a migrant from India, is keen to celebrate their success, she also asks whether the reality of life here lives up to the promise.
Why aren't we making the best of the people who come here with such high hopes? And why don't many of them want to stay?
"AUCKLAND IS the face of the future for New Zealand," Pio says. In the next 15 years, the ethnic makeup of the country will start to mirror that of its biggest city now.
The number of Asian people in New Zealand is expected to double to almost 800,000, making up 16 per cent of the population - roughly the same as Maori.
The number of Middle Eastern, African and Latin American migrants is much smaller. In 2006 it numbered about 34,000, and it's expected to stay under 2 per cent of the population.
That people will want to come here is a given. Which people, and whether they'll stay, is not as certain.
"New Zealand is not necessarily the first choice for many migrants," Pio says. "Many see New Zealand as a stepping stone to Australia. It's a bigger country and they have a more can-do attitude in many ways."
It's a common feeling, particularly among those who've had professional success at home and don't feel they or their children could achieve to the same level here.
"The majority of migrants I've spoken to think it's better to leave New Zealand," Pio says. "They love New Zealand, it has a fabulous quality of life, but they could have better opportunities elsewhere."
But for New Zealand to be used as a training ground, where migrants practise their English before moving to a bigger country, means we miss the benefits. We support migrants when they need it most, and lose them when they're on their feet.
Anand Kumble and his wife, Sarita, biochemists who trained in India and worked at top American universities, run their own biotechnology firm in New Zealand.
Anand Kumble says they like the lifestyle, but they don't plan to stay. "The frustration coming here was that it's a very small community, it seemed very closed," he said.
Their company has had good support from the Government, but they see more opportunity for success for themselves and their two daughters elsewhere. And as a result of hiring staff for his own company, Kumble has seen the number of skilled workers who are taking jobs well beneath their abilities.
He is critical of immigration policies that don't target those whose qualifications are needed and recognised. "We really don't need any more doctors driving cabs."
The common experience of those from Asia, Africa and the Middle East, as opposed to those from, say, England or South Africa, is of looking different. While still a small part of the population, about 10 per cent, they attract the most negative attention.
Resentment towards Asian immigrants, in particular, was stirred up during the mid-1990s and early 2000s by comments by NZ First leader Winston Peters, claiming that New Zealanders were being squeezed out by a tide of migrants.
Peters is now seeking a return to Parliament, and said in a speech last year that he would continue to sound the alarm over the "consequences of a lackadaisical approach to immigration" and its cost to New Zealand.
Maori Party co-leader Pita Sharples, who will give a speech about race relations at Orakei Marae in Auckland today, says Asian migrants aren't made to feel welcome in New Zealand. "It's part of the arrogance aspect of mainstream cultures that consider that this place is theirs," he told the Herald on Sunday.
Is New Zealand racist? "While there's no strongly, overt discrimination, the subtle discrimination kills you," Pio says. "And there is a lot of subtle discrimination."
Stories in her book include African migrants being told a rental house has already been let, only to see the same property still advertised as being available for rent.
Pio says there is an invisible ceiling in some organisations, where despite an apparently diverse workforce, senior positions are closed to migrants.
Indian student Gaurav Thakur, 22, who is finishing his accounting diploma in New Zealand, has applied for graduate positions at accounting firms and been turned down. A few months ago, one recruiter told him his accent was a problem.
Thakur already works as a budget service advisor, and holds two other part-time jobs. His spoken English is excellent. "Now I'm feeling not very confident about going for jobs," he says. If he doesn't find a position he'll go home, where his father runs an accounting business.
Mary Dawson, executive director of Auckland Regional Migrant Services, says discrimination is an issue. It's not always directly about race, but about an accent, a "difficult" name, or religion.
This past decade hasn't been easy for those coming from a Muslim background, she says. Following the September 11, 2001, attacks, "there was just that fear and intimidation that was going around the world really and we weren't immune to that".
But overall, Dawson says things are improving.
While the recession was a hiccup, prompting a "jobs for Kiwis" attitude from some quarters, we are getting better."The change in our population, particularly in Auckland, has been so rapid over the past years and people are realising with so many cultures, the notion of otherness is eroding."
WHEN CORI Gonzalez-Macuer's father came to New Zealand from Chile in the 1980s, he worked as a cleaner for two years. He had an economics degree. English was the problem, Gonzalez-Macuer says.
The family never spoke it at home, and though he and his brother picked it up quickly at school, it was tougher for their parents. Comedian Gonzalez-Macuer likes to mine his Latin American heritage, and its differences to that of other New Zealanders in his routines.
But 22 years on, he says, the family consider themselves Kiwis. "They always said it was the best thing they could have done."
Dawson says English is key to migrants finding a job - and finding a job is everything. They feel good about themselves, and that helps them and their families adjust.
And when it comes to supporting migrants into employment, it's true that other countries are ahead of the game. "We're a bit behind Canada and Australia and other migrant-receiving countries," she says.
"They have a bigger economy, bigger skill shortages, so there's greater incentive to bring people in, say, Middle Eastern doctors, because you have more Middle Eastern people living in the country."
Some would say there's already enough support programmes for migrants, that too many people come here with their hand out.
But the numbers show migrants pay for that support themselves, twice over. In Longing and Belonging, Pio quotes a 2007 Department of Labour study on the economic impact of migration.
It showed migrants had a greater positive net fiscal impact, per person, than New Zealand-born people. In the 2005-06 year, the study showed migrants contributed $8.1 billion in taxes, GST and excise duties, and received $4.8 billion in government spending, including education, health, benefits and allowances.
AFRICAN-BORN ENGINEER Boubacar Coulibaly was once asked by a colleague's child if he was raised on a dollar a day.
Coulibaly says he understood where the comment came from - all the boy knew of Africa was the faces of children on child sponsorship ads.
Coulibaly was raised in Mali, where he grew up in a farming family, studied in French and learned English and Chinese.
He came to New Zealand at 29 after marrying his New Zealand-born wife, and completed his Masters degree here.
After graduating, he wrote to every engineering firm in the country looking for a job.
"The thing you'd always get was, 'Have you got New Zealand experience?'," he says.
Eventually, he told Auckland City Council he'd work for them for free. They paid him to work for three months. After that, doors opened.
"I think it's really difficult for people who've just arrived in New Zealand being asked for New Zealand experience - how are they going to get it?"
He'd like to see New Zealanders learn more about the rest of the world and the countries migrants come from. Making it compulsory to learn another language at school would help too.
Mervyn Singham, director of the Office of Ethnic Affairs, thinks more information would help employers too.
Most are willing to hire migrants, they're just unsure about how to deal with issues like employees who want to pray at work.
And it has been difficult during the recession, as employers focus on what they know, and what's familiar.
Unemployment among ethnic communities has risen - although not as much, Singham points out, as among Maori and Pacific workers.
Singham's message to employers is to think smarter, and use the skills and networks migrants have: "Ethnic diversity can be a source of rejuvenation to the economy, not a drag."
He is positive about life for migrants in New Zealand, and he should know: Singham moved from Malaysia to mono-cultural Christchurch as a 22-year-old student more than two decades ago.
It was tough - "I stuck out like a sore thumb" - but things are better now, he says.
"I've observed what happens in other countries, and I think we're very fortunate.
"We're not without our problems, but relative to other countries, we do a fantastic job."
Pio, too loves New Zealand. But it could easily have been different.
Had her teenage son - now in his 20s and studying overseas - not fallen for his new country, she wouldn't have stuck it out.
"My first two years here were very difficult. If he didn't take to the place like a fish to water, nothing would have kept me here.
"I've had to jump through hoops that I've jumped through 10 years ago. As a professional woman it's been very frustrating."
That has to change, Pio says, if we're to make the most of migrants and our trading partners on the Asia-Pacific rim.
"Where will New Zealand have to market its goods? All the government reports say turn your face towards Asia."
Only by doing that will we avoid our new migrants turning their faces towards Australia.