Leaving behind big city life to start making classic New Zealand pies halfway around the world might seem like a bold choice, but for Rajeev Bajwa and his family, it's one they've never regretted.

After 17 years in New Zealand, and several of those in Rotorua, Bajwa, 47, became a New Zealand citizen this week.

His wife, Seema, 42, is also planning to become a citizen this year.

The pair, originally from India, moved to New Zealand in 2001, while Seema was seven months pregnant with their first child.

Rajeev Bajwa during his citizenship ceremony with Rotorua Mayor Steve Chadwick. PHOTO/STEPHEN PARKER A_250118sp3.JPG
Rajeev Bajwa during his citizenship ceremony with Rotorua Mayor Steve Chadwick. PHOTO/STEPHEN PARKER A_250118sp3.JPG

Becoming citizens was an "honour and privilege", Bajwa said.

Indian nationals are increasingly choosing to become citizens in the district, new figures reveal.

Figures released by the Department of Internal Affairs show people born in India made up the biggest proportion of new New Zealand citizens last year.

Sixty-two Indian nationals were made New Zealand citizens in Rotorua in 2017, more than double the 28 people in 2016.

The next biggest ethnic group was Filipinos, with 56 people made citizens in Rotorua last year, followed by Fijians and English nationals, with 35 each.

The number of new citizens has also risen overall in Rotorua. There were a total of 320 new citizens in 2017, up 39 per cent on the 230 in 2015.

Nationally, Indians made up the third biggest group of new citizens in 2016, making up 10.5 per cent of the 31,881 people granted residency.

The biggest group was people from the United Kingdom, who made up 15.4 per cent of new residents.


Nationwide immigration figures for 2017 were not yet available.

Bajwa and his wife own BB's Brunch Bar, where his wife makes traditional Kiwi pies.

He said the Rotorua community had been welcoming.

"The people are amazing."

When it came to the increase in Indian nationals choosing to call Rotorua home, Bajwa believed that was down to the "ripple effect" from the cost of living in Auckland.

Immigration authorities were also encouraging people to move to the regions, he said.

The couple have two children - a son, 16, and a daughter, 13. The children loved living in Rotorua, Bajwa said.

Rotorua Indian Association president Shashi Patel said a combination of word of mouth and a shift away from bigger cities may be behind the increase.

"I'm not too sure whether we're starting to see word getting around, people that have been here telling other people what a great place it is for your family. That's possibly a lot to do with it.

"The shift from the big centres could also be having an impact, and knowing that we've got a very strong Indian community."

Indian celebrations were often held at a community hall, which was open to Indians of "all creeds, all religions".

Some of the events there, such as Diwali celebrations, could attract up to 300 people, Patel said.

"The hall is starting to get a bit small for some of those functions."

A lot of Indian people were hard workers and wanted to contribute to their new community, he said.

"We're very proud of that."

Toi Ohomai Institute of Technology head of international Graeme Rennie said the Toi Ohomai "student experience" had a positive flow-on effect in regard to the decision by international students to stay in the community.

"Having experienced our unique landscape, culture and gained industry-recognised skills, as graduates these students also provide much needed relief to industries facing problematic skill shortages, such as manufacturing, health, dairy farming and forestry."

In 2017, 653 equivalent fulltime Indian students were enrolled at Toi Ohomai.

In the past, mayor Steve Chadwick has said diversity brought "richness" to a community.

"It's what makes life, and places, interesting. People with different backgrounds bring different skills and experiences, different thinking and new ways of doing things. It's also good for our children to be exposed to different people and cultures, to learn about the world beyond what they know and accept people's differences.

"Officiating at citizenship ceremonies is one of my favourite tasks as a mayor. It's often very humbling and moving when people share what's brought them to New Zealand and to Rotorua, and why it's important to them to become citizens of their adopted home."

New New Zealand citizens in Rotorua 2017
India - 62
Philippines - 56
England - 35
Fiji - 35
South Africa - 16

New New Zealand citizens in Rotorua 2016
India - 28
Philippines - 41
England - 41
Fiji - 24
South Africa - 46