Pacific migrants just as likely to be employed as other migrants, but lower paid

Mar 8, 2019

Three years after arriving in New Zealand, 95 percent of Pacific migrants were either very satisfied or satisfied with New Zealand.

Isabelle Sin, Senior Fellow at Motu Economic and Public Policy Research, researched a group of Pacific migrants who gained residence approval in New Zealand between November 2004 and October 2005.

The research, conducted for the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, followed their outcomes until 2017 using a range of data sources. Comparisons made focus on migrants from Fiji, Tonga, and Samoa and migrants on different types of visa.

“In the first three years after residence was approved, satisfaction with New Zealand and feelings of being settled were generally high regardless of their degree of economic success in New Zealand.  Satisfaction and feelings of being settled declined over time,” said Dr Sin.

A high proportion of Pacific migrants in this research group were still in New Zealand twelve years after being granted a visa.

“The proportion of migrants from Samoa and Tonga who stayed was below 80 percent, while around 90 percent of those from Fiji or other Pacific countries were still in Aotearoa twelve years later,” said Dr Sin.

Pacific migrants had a similar likelihood of being employed compared to non-Pacific migrants of the same gender.

“However, Pacific migrants of both genders earned considerably lower wages,” said Dr Sin. “Those with limited English and low education levels appear to be caught in low-paying or part-time work.”

Over 2005 to 2017, Pacific migrants had a similar likelihood of being employed to non-Pacific migrants of the same gender.

“However, Pacific migrants of both genders had considerably lower wage earnings conditional on being employed than non-Pacific migrants, and higher rates of both being employed but still receiving a benefit and of receiving a benefit while not employed,” said Dr Sin.

It is likely Pacific migrants were particularly vulnerable to weak economic conditions. However, the Pacific migrants in this research were successful at accessing benefits to which they were entitled – migrants from other regions did less well.

“During the Global Financial Crisis, Pacific migrants experienced larger increases in receiving benefits than non-Pacific migrants. The proportion of female Pacific migrants receiving a benefit rose from 7 percent in 2006 to over 20 percent in 2010, and fell only gradually over the following years,” said Dr Sin

Despite their lower wages, over half Samoan and Tongan migrants said they sent money back home to others.

“In comparison, only 14 percent of non-Pacific migrants sent money overseas,” said Dr Sin.

When asked about why Pacific migrants had worse employment outcomes, Dr Sin mentioned their much lower average English proficiency after six months in NZ than non-Pacific migrants.

“Pacific migrants were much less likely to report that English was the language they spoke best (38 percent vs 62 percent), although only 12 percent stated that their English was poor compared with 8 percent of other migrants,” said Dr Sin.

Only 9 percent of Pacific migrants for whom English was not their best language studied English in New Zealand. In contrast, 40 percent of such non-Pacific migrants did so.

Housing outcomes were closely linked to economic outcomes.

“Fijian migrants, who had strong economic outcomes, had a home ownership rate of 45 percent in 2013, compared with around 10 percent for other Pacific migrants,” said Dr Sin. “Over 50 percent of those on Skilled/Business visas owned homes in 2013.”

The study, “The settlement experience of Pacific migrants in New Zealand: Insights from LISNZ and the IDI” by Isabelle Sin (Motu, Victoria University of Wellington, and Te Pūnaha Matatini) and Judd Ormsby (London School of Economics) received funding from the Ministry for Business, Innovation and Employment.

Summary haiku

Pacific migrants:
high employment, low pay rates,
trapped by poor English.