Pacific migrants are just as likely to find work in New Zealand as other migrants but are paid less, a new study suggests.
However, despite their lower pay, Samoan and Tongan migrants were almost three times more likely to send money back home than non-Pacific migrants.
Isabelle Sin, senior fellow at Motu Economic and Public Policy Research, studied a group of Pacific migrants who gained New Zealand residency between November 2004 and October 2005.
Her research followed migrants from Fiji, Tonga, and Samoa, who gained residence on different types of visas, until 2017.
Over that time, the Pacific migrants had a similar likelihood of being employed as non-Pacific migrants of the same gender.
“It’s important to note though, that Pacific migrants of both genders earned considerably lower wages than non-Pacific migrants and were more likely to receive benefits,” Sin said.
“Those with limited English and low education levels appear to have been caught in low-paying or part-time work.”
The Pacific migrants seemed particularly vulnerable to weak economic conditions and experienced larger increases in receiving benefits than non-Pacific migrants during the Global Financial Crisis.
“The proportion of female Pacific migrants in our sample receiving a benefit rose from 7 per cent in 2006 to over 20 per cent in 2010, and fell only gradually over the following years,” Sin said.
Migrants from other regions who were entitled to benefits did not always succeed in accessing the available benefit, whereas Pacific migrants were successful at accessing benefits to which they were entitled.
Despite their low wages, over half Samoan and Tongan migrants said they sent money back home to others.
“In comparison, only 14 per cent of non-Pacific migrants sent money overseas,” Sin said.
The research, conducted for the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, found low levels of education and low English proficiency were likely to have been important explanations for Pacific migrants’ weak economic outcomes.
“Pacific migrants were much less likely than other migrants to report that English was the language they spoke best (38 per cent vs 62 per cent), although only 12 per cent stated that their English was poor compared with 8 per cent of other migrants,” Sin said.
“Furthermore, only 9 per cent of Pacific migrants for whom English was not their best language studied English in New Zealand. In contrast, 40 per cent of such non-Pacific migrants did so. This may help explain why after twelve years in New Zealand Pacific migrants who arrived with poor English still had low employment and wages.”
Housing outcomes of the Pacific migrants were closely linked to their economic outcomes.
“Fijian migrants, who had comparatively strong economic outcomes, had a home ownership rate of 45 per cent in 2013, compared with around 10 per cent for other Pacific migrants,” Sin said.
“Over 50 per cent of those on Skilled/Business visas owned homes in 2013.”
Three years after arriving in New Zealand, 95 per cent of Pacific migrants were either very satisfied or satisfied with New Zealand.
“In the first three years after residence was approved, satisfaction with New Zealand and feelings of being settled were generally high regardless of the economic success in New Zealand of the migrants,” Sin said.
“However, satisfaction and feelings of being settled did decline over this period.”
A high proportion of the Pacific migrants studied were still in New Zealand twelve years after gaining residence.
“The proportion of migrants from Samoa and Tonga who stayed was below 80 per cent, while around 90 per cent of those from Fiji or other Pacific countries were still in Aotearoa twelve years later,” Sin said.