People seeking employment are often motivated to migrate to another country, and changing sources of migration in turn affect the composition of the workforce.
New Zealand has a very mobile workforce. Many New Zealanders head overseas to work, and some never return. New Zealand also has strong inward migration and since the 1980s government policy has ensured that most new migrants are skilled workers.
In 1986, 17% of workers were born overseas, but by 2006 this had risen to 24%. In Auckland in 2006, 39% of the workforce was born overseas, one of the highest rates in the world.
In some areas of employment a very significant proportion of workers are foreign-born. For example the proportion of doctors born overseas was 52% in 2006, a rise from 36% in 1986.
Sources of migrants
After the Second World War migrants to New Zealand came from a much wider range of countries than before, when most came from the UK and Ireland.
A small but significant flow of people resettled from countries in continental Europe, such as the Netherlands and Greece. Larger numbers migrated from the Pacific, and their numbers grew rapidly during the late 1960s and early 1970s. Many Pacific Island workers were employed in the manufacturing sector.
Asian people have lived in New Zealand from the early days of European settlement. Chinese in particular followed gold-mining strikes throughout the world and migrated to New Zealand to work in the goldfields. Although most Chinese gold miners were married men, their wives remained in China. There were only nine Chinese women to 4,995 men in 1881. From 1987 the number of people of Asian ethnicity entering New Zealand grew rapidly, most arriving as skilled migrants.
More recent migrants have included refugees and other settlers from countries in the Middle East and Africa, such as Somalia. Studies indicate that new migrants from non-traditional sources, especially those with poor English language skills, can face difficulties in New Zealand’s labour market.
Migration within New Zealand
The workforce is also affected by people who move from one part of New Zealand to another. Industries such as paper mills, mines and appliance factories develop over time and are frequently associated with particular localities. As these businesses grow, the workforce tends to move to within easy commuting distance. If the business closes, the local area may not have enough work opportunities to absorb surplus labour, so people move to areas with better prospects.
Seeking work opportunities was the major reason a very large proportion of Māori moved to cities from rural areas in the 1950s and 1960s. More recently, displaced workers have tended to move to Australia for similar work in industries for which they have skills and experience.