Key Points:

Highly skilled immigrants struggle to find jobs in New Zealand because they come up against a wall of discrimination from both potential employers and recruitment consultants, a Massey University study has found.

The Wellington-based study by human resource management lecturer Jacqui Campbell and communication lecturer Mingsheng Li unearthed disturbing evidence that many new arrivals remained unemployed or accepted unskilled work because of racism.

The study was only small, involving 23 immigrants from a range of countries, five recruitment consultants, and two immigrant settlement agencies.

However, within the small sample researchers found that only a few had found jobs that matched their qualifications.

The immigrants cited their overseas qualifications, skin colour, accents, language skills, prejudice, and a lack of cultural understanding as barriers to employment.

They said they also came up against a lack of support from recruitment and government agencies.

Many reported having difficulty getting recruitment consultants to refer them for job interviews.

All the immigrants had bachelors degrees and 50 per cent had postgraduate qualifications. Their occupations included accountant, manager, diplomat, economist, journalist, judge, lawyer, marketing director, psychologist, and school teacher.

Ms Campbell said the immigrants put their struggle to find work down to what she describes as the "conservative attitudes" of New Zealanders when it comes to employing people from different countries and cultures.

Being underemployed or unemployed had taken its toll on the survey participants, leading to loss of income, self esteem and confidence. Three marriages broke down, she said.

Professional immigrants were a potential asset to New Zealand but their value was not recognised, Dr Mingsheng said.