Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Alan Charman: Those who wait patiently in line say it's worth it

There is a quiet revolution happening in New Zealand and it will change the face of the country. It's all about the current wave of immigrants.

If the first wave of immigration is said to be British from 1769 to the 1960s, and the second, the Asian, British and South African mix from 1970 to 2000, the third wave has started - and the difference to the others is stark.

The majority of migrants during the past 20 years have been tertiary-qualified men and their families.

As a technical recruiter, I talk to many of these people as they arrive in New Zealand and search for jobs.

Being a proud, if somewhat sceptical Kiwi, I am interested in why people move here, and always ask candidates why they have chosen to do so.

Most Asian migrants quote our quality of life, especially in terms of their children's futures. These migrants often include the ones you see pumping gas and scanning groceries.

As one of them told me: "I am nothing; my children are everything. I will happily work here, knowing that my children will have a greater chance of success than at home." This from a master's level, internationally chartered engineer from India.

South Africans have moved here for a variety of reasons; some for financial reasons and many, again, for the perceived quality of life - less crime, less unemployment.

One among the South Africans' stories stands out. It was that of a "Cape coloured" man whose response was: "For the past 400 years, I and my family have been non-white. For the next 400 we are going to be non-black."

The constant among people before 2000 was a desire to improve their lives and the futures of their children - after all you're not likely to move to somewhere you think is a dump.

During the huge, global population shift, New Zealand tended to rank a little down the list of desired destinations for emigres.

The list usually went something like this, in order of preference: US, Britain, Canada, Australia, New Zealand.

So, what has changed? I am hearing a completely different kind of answer, and with increasing frequency and stridency.

From the Canadian PhD who wants to live in a country with a social conscience, to the South American welder who sees New Zealand at the cutting edge of social innovation, to the Australian gutted at John Howard's response to Iraq, I am hearing reasons which make one sit up and take notice.

It appears the Government's recent rule changes to immigration have produced a useful side-effect.

The bar has been raised to work being all-important and we are importing specialist workers by the thousand.

Because it is so hard to gain entry into New Zealand, intending migrants are those to whom the battle with bureaucracy is less important than the final result.

I speak daily to people who will wait years if necessary to move here.

New Zealand is no longer the third or fifth preferred destination - it is first, and a lonely first, in the eyes of most people coming here.

There are Brits who see our society as colourful and integrated, there are Zimbabweans moved by equality, and Arabs by peace.

The attraction is no longer wholly economic but what the migrants believe about the nature of our society.

We've already seen the results of our previously high immigration standards in the foreign names that feature so strongly on our dux lists.

What height will the bar reach when the children of these new migrants - children who will be smart, politically aware and socially responsible - hit Year 13? I can't wait to find out.

* Alan Charman is a consultant and recruiting agent who deals with candidates from more than 70 countries.

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