China has become the largest source of immigrants moving to New Zealand, overtaking the United Kingdom for the first time.
Between July 2012 and June 2013, the New Zealand government granted 5,794 Chinese citizens permanent residence - 7.1 per cent more than during the same period a year earlier.
Overall, 38,961 foreign citizens gained residency, 3.7 per cent down on the previous year, according to figures released by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment.
Connor Brady, director of the Hamilton-based New Life Global immigration consultancy, said the focus of his business over the last half a decade had shifted from Europe and North America to Asia.
Currently some 35 per cent of his clients come from China, with around the same number coming from India.
New residency approvals for citizens from the UK - historically the largest country of origin - fell by 14.1 per cent to 5,184. Indian citizens, ranking third, saw approvals fall by 1.8 per cent to 5,128.
“We are seeing a lot of [Chinese] people who are concerned about the pollution,” Brady said. “They are concerned about their children growing up.”
Half of his Chinese clients are business investors, while half are parents sending their children to study in the country, he estimated.
Brady also said well-off Chinese were interested in New Zealand as a safe place to preserve their wealth and acquire real estate.
“Most Chinese migrants are able to buy land most New Zealanders would consider expensive,” he said.
Overall approvals of work visas doubled over the last decade, while for Chinese they quadrupled. Between July 2012 and June 2013, 13,360 Chinese received a work visa, five per cent more than during the same time frame the previous year. One in 10 foreigners working in New Zealand is a Chinese citizen.
Approvals of student visas for Chinese students fell at a rate of 0.2 per cent to 17,542 last year, albeit at a slower rate than overall student visas. One in three foreign students in the country is from China.
For Immigration Minister Michael Woodhouse, the country’s appeal for Chinese tourists lies in its growing ties to China.
“We are seeing more connections between China and New Zealand on a daily basis,” he said. “I expect this to continue to increase in future.”
China overtook Australia as New Zealand’s largest trading partner last year, mostly due to dairy exports. About 40 per cent of Chinese imports in the country were milk powder. New Zealand was the first developed nation to sign a free-trade agreement with China in 2008.
Woodhouse rejected concerns voiced by the opposition that many Chinese immigrants were relatively old and did not contribute much to the tax base. “Chinese residents, on average, are actually younger than migrants from Western countries,” he said.
New Zealand saw its population grow by 0.9 per cent to 4.5 million in the period, the report estimates; 7,900 more people became residents in the country than left it, with Chinese citizens pushing the change.
The release of the annual survey coincided with that of January’s immigration figures, which indicated that the trend was gathering pace.
Statistics New Zealand said the country had a net gain of 3,100 migrants in January, the highest figure recorded in more than a decade. Some 5,700 Chinese arrived in New Zealand that month.
“There are pockets in the city of Auckland that have quite a Chinese feel,” said Robin Peace, a migration expert and associate professor at Massey University.
“Chinese have been settling in New Zealand for at least as long as the Europeans if not longer,” she said, noting that Chinese migration in parts of the later half of the 19th century exceeded that from Europe.
The new trend is pushing New Zealanders to redefine the country as being truly multicultural, said Peace. “This country has always seen itself as a white settler colony. It is only recently that this is changing.”
Correction: an earlier version of the article wrongly referred to Professor Peace as a professor at the University of New Zealand.