The early 2000s wave
The New Zealand government’s long-term business immigration scheme stimulated a second wave of Korean immigrants in the early 2000s. Although migration rates then slowed, the number of New Zealand residents who were born in Korea rose from 17,931 in 2001 to 26,601 in 2013. In 2013 the number of people identifying with Korean ethnicity (including New Zealand-born Koreans) was 30,171.
New Zealand’s immigration policy has been the main factor influencing the number of arrivals, and therefore the size of the country’s Korean community. On the other hand, a lack of job or business opportunities in New Zealand’s small economy, coupled with some hostility and racism towards Asians, has sometimes hampered their adjustment to their new home.
Some Koreans returned to their homeland for employment opportunities, while others used New Zealand as a stepping stone, often to Australia. Others were dubbed ‘astronaut families’, where the husband returned to work in Korea, remitting money to and occasionally visiting his wife and family in New Zealand.
The majority of Korean immigrants held tertiary qualifications and were in their 30s and 40s, meeting the immigration criteria. Some chain migration occurred as earlier arrivals sent home favourable reports to friends and relations – including elderly parents – who then came out to join them.
Where the grass is greener
In 2002 economist Inbom Choi told a Seoul conference what was behind the recent wave of Korean migration: ‘Korea’s highly competitive educational system is driving these people from their homeland. They would rather raise their children in an easy-going, environmentally cleaner, less expensive and English speaking educational system.’1
Places of residence
Most Koreans were used to living in apartments in high-rise blocks. In New Zealand a city lifestyle suited them, as it offered access to all the necessities and to community networks. On arrival most families had sufficient funds to buy houses in relatively affluent areas, such as Auckland’s North Shore, which, with its Korean churches, soon held an active community. In 2001 it was claimed that in North Shore City, Korean was the second-most common language after English.
In 2013 just over 70% of New Zealand’s Koreans lived in the Auckland area, with 11% in Christchurch and others scattered throughout the country. In Auckland, the North Shore remained the most popular area but the central city area had also become popular.
Ties with Korea
Koreans in New Zealand continued to retain close ties to Korea, thanks to the internet and air travel. In 2013 they had greater mobile phone and internet access than other Asians in New Zealand and the general population. They were frequent travellers to Korea, with many visiting their families during September, October and December. September or October are popular – Chusok, the Autumn Full Moon Day, when families get together to venerate their ancestors, falls within these months, and the weather is good. In December there are many end-of-year social events and Christmas.