Discrimination and feeling unsafe challenge ‘rich, stable’ perception, report says.

Asian families are more vulnerable than other Kiwis despite doing reasonably well financially, a new report says.

Almost all (91 per cent) Asian two-parent families with children have at least one person in paid work, and 81 per cent earn what the report calls "adequate income", above 60 per cent of the median net family income.

But 19 per cent say they have experienced unfair discrimination in the past year, 32 per cent say they can't easily express their identity, 46 per cent feel unsafe walking alone in their neighbourhood at night, 53 per cent are dissatisfied with their working hours and pay, and a massive 58 per cent - more than any other ethnicity - are paying more than a quarter of their after-tax incomes on housing, which the report calls "unaffordable".

The report, an annual update on family wellbeing by the Social Policy Evaluation and Research Unit (Superu - formerly the Families Commission), challenges popular perceptions of Asian migrants as rich and secure.


"Asian couples with younger children appear to be more vulnerable in relation to economic security, housing, and hours of work and pay," it says. "These families are more likely to experience discrimination and to feel uneasy about expressing their identities. They are also much less likely to engage with the community through volunteering.

"These results indicate potential risks in terms of alienation, isolation and exploitation in the workforce. It also highlights challenges for these families in fostering a sense of belonging for their children."

Dr Elsie Ho of the University of Auckland's Centre for Asian and Ethnic Minority Health Research said local employers often did not recognise Asian qualifications and some migrants had to change their names to get job interviews. "They feel [their] identity is a barrier ... to get equitable work in New Zealand," she said.

"The public perception is that Asian people are rich, but when we take Asian people as a whole the picture is quite different."

Asian two-parent families with children were still more likely to have "adequate" incomes than Pacific families, who show up as below average on most social surveys.

Sole parents also fared much worse than couples on all measures. Only 46 per cent of sole-parent families had "adequate" incomes, compared with 87 per cent of two-parent families with children.

But Asian two-parent families were almost as likely as sole parents to have "unaffordable" housing, largely because most live in Auckland.

Gus Lim of the Problem Gambling Foundation's Asian Family Services said researchers had found that the same people were more likely to get rental housing and job interviews if they gave English names instead of their Asian names. But he noted that Asians were also more likely than average to see civil authorities such as the police as fair to all groups.

Finding work and home a struggle

Thai immigrant Nong says the hardest things about moving to New Zealand were finding a job and a house.

Nong, 36, and seven extended family members arrived in February - 20 years after she last lived here as an international student.

Her homestay family have treated her "like family" ever since, and took in the whole family group for three weeks until they found a house to rent in Albany.

It took four months to find a job at software company Orion Health.

"I sent out about 30 applications and every one was rejected," Nong said. She got only one other interview.

In the end, she and her sister, who found work with air compressor company Ash Air, found their jobs by joining a product management "meet-up".

"You have got to be quite active and you have got to meet the locals," Nong said. "If you are just going to sit in your house looking for a job, you're not going to get it."

She and her husband had decided to migrate here after they had their first child Chris, now 3.

"We came for our kids. New Zealand is quite safe for our kids and there are a lot of outdoor activities," she said.

But her husban has returned to Thailand despite having a permit to stay here.

"He has residence, but we are not sure about our stability and income," Nong said. "His job in Thailand is stable, so next year he will come."

The family has found it hard to buy a house and are struggling with childcare.

She and her sister brought their mother and auntie with them, but only on visitor visas. The auntie has already returned to Thailand and Nong's father arrived last week to replace her.

"They're on rotation," she said.

"We hope to stay, and our future goal is to let my mum and dad to be able to apply for residence too."