I was interested to read the New Zealand Herald article Why are migrants snubbing New Zealand's regions?, which draws on statistics showing a decline in the number of migrant applicants claiming points for employment outside of Auckland.

This data isn't surprising, given Auckland's international airport and its status as a gateway city, as well as its existing immigrant communities. But it is only one part of a complex picture of long-term demographic change happening right across the country.
An Asia New Zealand Foundation report released late last year found Asian communities were transforming small cities around New Zealand.

In the report, Beyond the Metropoles: The Asian presence in small city New Zealand, University of Auckland senior lecturer in geography Wardlow Friesen examined the Asian presence in six of New Zealand's smaller cities: Invercargill and Southland; Queenstown; Nelson; Napier-Hastings; Rotorua; Tauranga and Western Bay of Plenty.

Dr Friesen found high percentage increases in their Asian populations between the 2001 and 2013 censuses. The Southland region had the biggest percentage growth of any region in New Zealand (233 per cent) - from 852 people to 2838. Immigrants are being attracted to the regions by job opportunities, affordability and lifestyle. Indeed, migrants interviewed for the New Zealand Herald article highlighted some of these.


Although the absolute numbers of new migrants may be modest compared to Auckland, small cities are being transformed by the increasing "Asian" presence, with shops, restaurants, signs, ethnic associations, cultural festivals and new faces and languages.

For instance, Southland has several Filipino grocery stores, Hastings has a Buddhist monastery and Tauranga has two Sikh gurdwara. Interviewed for the report, an ex-president of the Bay of Plenty (Rotorua) Indian Association noted that more than 50 businesses in Rotorua were owned by people of Indian heritage. India is New Zealand's largest source of skilled migrants.

Recent Asian migrants to the regions have come not only from China and India but also from Korea, Japan, the Philippines, Vietnam and many other countries. Immigrants have helped counteract static growth (and in some cases have reversed population decline) and have brought with them a whole range of skills. Filipinos in Southland are working on dairy farms and as nurses, welders and lab technicians.

Beyond the Metropoles finds regional cities have generally embraced their changing demographic mix. Local government agencies, community groups and tertiary providers are to be congratulated for recognising the value of immigrants, both economically and culturally, and for working proactively on settlement initiatives.

The absence of an international airport on their doorstep has pushed many local governments to be innovative and energetic in making their communities attractive to new arrivals.

Culturally, Asian immigrants help make regional cities more vibrant and diverse places, giving their adopted cities a more international feel. Like the trailblazers who settled in the decades before them, they are also likely to encourage further immigration and help make their cities more attractive to tourists and international students.

Statistics New Zealand's ethnic population projections show Asian ethnicities are set to increase as a proportion of the population in every region and territorial authority in New Zealand. This growth will come from not only continued immigration, but also from the children of recent settlers.

Just because most new migrants from India and China choose to live where they land - at least initially - doesn't mean that other parts of the country are missing out, or failing to notice, this country's growing diversity.

Simon Draper is executive director of the Asia New Zealand Foundation.
The Asia New Zealand Foundation is a non-profit, non-partisan organisation dedicated to building New Zealand's links with Asia through a range of programmes.