Chinese migrants use New Zealand as a stepping stone to a third country, or return to China to obtain better jobs but may return to retire, an Asia Research Institute study has found.
The study, Home on the Move - New Chinese Immigrants to New Zealand as Transnationals, by Massey University School of Humanities lecturer Sally Liangni Liu, was part of an internationally collaborative project entitled Circulatory Transmigration: A New Paradigm Exploring Chinese Mobility.
China is the largest source country of permanent migrants to New Zealand - 17 per cent of the 44,008 people approved for resident visas last year were Chinese.
But the study found the second-lowest migrant retention rate was among Chinese, and one in five Chinese approved for permanent residence no longer lived in New Zealand.
Sociologist Paul Spoonley, an immigration expert, said the study highlighted a failure of New Zealand's policy for retaining skilled migrants.
Dr Liu surveyed 477 respondents for her study.
She found many Chinese did not move to New Zealand for economic reasons, but economic-related reasons contributed significantly to their "cross-border movements".
"For many of them, immigrating to New Zealand and the later acquisition of a New Zealand passport means that they can enjoy many benefits as New Zealand citizens ... they can also obtain New Zealand qualifications and work experience," she wrote in her report.
"All of these ... are a good preparation for them to accumulate enough human capital (skills and cultural knowledge) towards the goal of moving to a more economically viable destination for career development, better income or an overall well-being for their families."
Chinese migrants chose to leave and go where opportunities were when their basic economic needs were not met in New Zealand, the study found.
But many said they would consider returning to New Zealand to retire.
Those who chose to stay in New Zealand said they did so because they felt comfortable and liked the social and natural environment, placing it ahead of economic considerations.
Professor Spoonley said many skilled migrants struggled to make enough money to live in New Zealand, and were earning less than they did before migrating.
"We are losing experienced, skilled migrants ... but we should also understand these are cosmopolitan migrants who have a choice to live in various places."
New Zealand First leader Winston Peters said New Zealand's immigration policy was "naive and exploitable".
"Chinese migrants can use New Zealand as their safety net, returning when they are unemployed, sick, retire or as an escape route from corruption charges," he said.
"New Zealand needs migrants in their most productive years, not when they are old."
Immigration Minister Michael Woodhouse rejected the survey findings, saying the study was "not robust enough".
The study was based on a "very small sample" and it was misleading to make general statements about Chinese migration patterns.
"There is no evidence that large numbers of retired migrants are returning to New Zealand," he said.
The minister said current residence policies selected migrants who were likely to remain in New Zealand by allocating bonus points to those with job offers, local work experience or a degree from a New Zealand university.
Former constable cannot imagine living anywhere else
Howie Yin, 33, Auckland
After having been in New Zealand for about 14 years, Chinese migrant Howie Yin says he cannot imagine living anywhere else - not even China.
Mr Yin, 33, came from China in 2002 as an international student and served in the New Zealand Police for eight years after completing his studies.
He now works as a business development manager for a cross-cultural design company, Pin, which helps businesses connect with the Chinese market.
"A lot of how I feel for New Zealand now has to do with the time I spent with the police," said Mr Yin, a former constable. "The job allowed me to meet real Kiwis from real communities, giving me a deep understanding of society."
Mr Yin said that, as a police officer, he was also forced outside his comfort zone because he had to communicate in English.
"The result was, my English improved and I started making a lot more friends outside of the Chinese community," he said.
Mr Yin said he now considered New Zealand to be home and had not contemplated migrating elsewhere or returning to China. "Migrating is a very tough decision and I don't think it is easy for anyone who is settled in New Zealand to just pack up and go, even if it's going back to our country of origin," he said.
Mr Yin had his first child and sponsored his parents to move permanently to New Zealand last year.
He sees his new role as being a "bridge" between New Zealand and China, especially in the area of trade and business.
"There are a lot of businesses wanting to reach the Chinese market, and I believe I have the cultural know-how to help," he said.
Country for retirement
Berry Cheng, 33, living in Sydney
Teaching assistant Berry Cheng says New Zealand's natural beauty drew her to Christchurch as an international student in 2002.
"Very soon after I arrived, I fell in love with the country and pictured myself living happily here," said Ms Cheng, 33, from Guangzhou.
But after graduating with a degree in mass communications from the University of Canterbury, reality hit.
"I started looking for work and found there was none ... the media industry here is just too small," she said.
"I realised that in this beautiful countryside, although relaxing and natural, it was hard to make a living."
The only job she could find was with an ethnic community newspaper, where she worked for about a year.
After gaining New Zealand residency, she decided to move to Australia to seek new opportunities.
Ms Cheng moved first to Melbourne in 2008 and then to Sydney a year later, where she is working part-time as a teaching assistant and pursuing her PhD.
"Sydney, to me, is what you call a real city - where you don't meet the same people every day, and can make real choices from shopping to food," she said.
"I can picture myself settling here and getting a real job after completing my PhD."
Ms Cheng said she still makes regular trips back to Christchurch, mainly to catch up with Cantabrian friends.
"What I miss about Christchurch is the people and the gardens and parks, which are just great for evening walks," she said.
"My dream now is to return there after my retirement."