Lack of meaningful jobs for migrants may trigger big problems, worries sociologist.

Failure by migrants to find employment in New Zealand could derail the nation's rapid - and so far peaceful - move towards superdiversity, an immigration expert warns.

Massey University sociologist Paul Spoonley, who is heading a $5.5 million research project on superdiversity, said studies found New Zealand employers continue to discriminate against migrants.

"Too many employers see migrants as a problem rather than potential employees. The problems they see include that they don't speak adequate English or have the right accent," he said.

"Economic disadvantage, coupled with depression when migrants fail to find meaningful work, might just trigger inter-ethnic conflict or something.


"I'm an optimist, but if we didn't prepare for the worst then we'd be failing in our duty."

Within 20 years, the combined Asian, Pacific and Maori population in Auckland is forecast to outnumber Europeans and others, with the most significant increase coming from Asians as a result of migration.

Unemployment rates for Asian, Maori and Pacific people were 6.7 per cent, 12.1 per cent and 11.8 per cent compared to just 4.4 per cent for NZ Europeans.

"In terms of feeling welcome and becoming settled, finding an appropriate job is key for any migrant, and unemployment or underemployment is always an issue," Professor Spoonley said.

A new report, the Superdiversity Stocktake by Auckland lawyer Mai Chen, said changing demographics meant "business as usual" was no longer possible for businesses and organisations here.

Businesses employing a diverse staff could reap a "diversity dividend" which included access to a wider, more diverse customer base, innovation and greater export potential.

Academy Book Company-Eton Press, on Auckland's North Shore, is one company finding benefits in employing migrants.

Business owner John Chisholm said he has seven employees from Vietnam, South Korea, Singapore, Samoa and India.


"Auckland's superdiversity has opened up new markets for us, especially for ESOL and languages, and having staff with language and cultural understanding of these markets has certainly helped."

He said the staff had helped the company reach new markets in the Pacific Islands and the company was now expanding into South Korea and China.

Professor Spoonley said that not enough was being done to help new settlers in New Zealand, and he had done a Cabinet paper on social cohesion and what was needed.

"I believe there are some gaps," he said. "Especially in terms of English language support, help with getting New Zealand work experience and job search.

"But we also pointed out the need for the host community - employers, NGOs, Government, communities - to do their bit," he said.

The NZ Diversity Survey, put out this month, found about four in 10 of the 552 respondents, or 37.5 per cent, considered ethnicity to be a diversity issue of importance at the workplace. That rose to 57.4 per cent in large organisations of 200 or more employees. But wellbeing, an ageing workforce and flexibility were the top three diversity issues for organisations here, ahead of ethnicity.

"One of the telling findings ... is that diversity is understood as being a much broader issue than just ethnicity," said Bev Cassidy-MacKenzie, chief executive of the Equal Employment Opportunities Trust.

She said companies needed to remember "that diverse people bring diverse ideas, so you are creating an environment for innovation and creativity and better problem-solving abilities."

AUT University Professor of Diversity Edwina Pio said despite being highly educated, the image of migrants were that they are "low skilled".

Professor Pio said not enough was being done to help migrants and refugees find employment after they arrived in New Zealand.

"It is sad to see people providing a dependency mentality for refugees and those in need rather than helping them to throw away such crutches of dependency and sail into the future with self-efficacy, transition programmes for contributing to the economy and recognition of work-related skills," she said.

"Transition programmes are key to fast-tracking appropriate migrant workers into higher levels of employment."

The Asia New Zealand Foundation's annual survey on New Zealanders' perceptions of Asia and Asian peoples found Kiwis feeling more positive towards Asians here.

The foundation attributed this to greater integration of migrants into New Zealand community life, increased visibility of Asian cultural events and influence in media reports on Asian people.

About 61 per cent of New Zealanders in Auckland and 41 per cent in small towns and rural areas last year said they had "a lot" or "a fair amount" to do Asian peoples and cultures.

Professor Spoonley said ongoing research had shown that "contact is critical" to tolerance and acceptance.

"By 2038. there will be a number of changes that will contribute to the warmth felt towards Asian New Zealanders, there will be many more of them for a start, many more will be New Zealand-born and raised and there will be more inter-ethnic partnerships and families."

He said given the demographic change and much more diverse communities, there will be far more inter-ethnic contact in schools, workplaces and the local community.

"But there will be pockets of opposition and anxiety," Professor Spoonley said.

"One of the challenges will be to help all New Zealanders understand that diversity is a normal part of New Zealand in the 21st century and that it is something to be welcomed and not feared."

The series


Changing faces


Changing learning


Changing families


Changing democracy


Changing business


Changing future