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Competitive job market adds to woes many Chinese migrants face securing employment in New Zealand

17:35 13/5/2024
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Photo: RNZ

With unemployment rising as businesses struggle amid an economic downturn, Asian immigrants are increasingly anxious about their employment prospects in New Zealand.

Latest Stats NZ data showed unemployment rose to 4.3 percent in the quarter ended March, the highest since mid-2021.

However, the number of jobs available fell by 6000 during the quarter - the first decline in nearly two years.

At the same time, a surge in migration over the past 12 months has added more than 130,000 people to New Zealand's population.

A Trade Me Jobs survey published on Tuesday showed that eight out of 10 Kiwis are open to new job opportunities, with the number of people actively seeking new jobs increasing from 11 percent to 20 percent against the previous year.

Trade Me Jobs sales director Matt Tolich said the labour market was rebalancing in favour of employers.

"This means job hunters are having to work harder to stand out in a crowded market and may not have the same negotiating power they did in the past," Tolich said. "It's tough for all candidates to stand out right now with more competition for roles."

Migrant Careers Support Trust founder and chairman Garyy Gupta

Migrant Careers Support Trust founder and chairperson Garry Gupta. Photo: Supplied

Migrant Careers Support Trust founder and chairman Garry Gupta has spoken to an increasing number of migrants who are seeking work, with some holding migrant exploitation protection work visas.

"Many of them come in terms of desperation and need help," Gupta said. "It is the worst time for a new migrant to find a job in the current environment.

"The economy is doing poorly. Job cuts are also happening in the public and the private sectors. The supply of jobs is really at an all-time low. ... New migrants obviously have to compete with experienced Kiwis, so experienced Kiwis will always get priority."

Shandong native Wei Shang, 42, moved to Hamilton in November, looking for work shortly after her arrival. Six months later, her search continues.

Shang said it was the first time in eight years since being in New Zealand that she had encountered such difficulty finding a job.

"I was shocked to see hundreds of applicants vying for a part-time administrative job in Hamilton," Shang said. "Previously, there wouldn't have been that many applicants for such a position. It's been particularly challenging to find a job this year."

Shang graduated from Unitec with a diploma in marketing in 2019.

She blamed language issues, coupled with a lack of work experience in New Zealand, for her inability to secure a full-time job, needing to fall back on part-time roles in retail to cover day-to-day expenses.

"Employers still tend to favour local Kiwis for marketing positions," she said, adding that she was considering returning to school to retrain in a different industry to improve her competitiveness.

Meijing He lost her job in the creative industry at Tātaki Auckland Unlimited earlier this month due to planned restructuring.

The middle-aged creative specialist was shocked by the news.

"New immigrants seeking employment in New Zealand often face difficulties assimilating," He said.

"Government departments and large organisations in the country place significant emphasis on personal reputation, posing challenges for immigrants to garner recognition in the local job market for their accomplishments abroad," she said.

"When confronted with competition, numerous immigrants settle for lower-tier positions, as securing an equivalent professional role in New Zealand is difficult," she said.

"Competing with local Kiwis, migrants are inherently at a disadvantage," she said. "The local market still prioritises hiring individuals they are familiar with for a job."

Meijing He, who works at Tātaki Auckland Unlimited, lost her job this month due to planned restructuring.

Meijing He was shocked to receive a redundancy notice earlier this month. Photo: Supplied

Wang Han, a 30-year-old technologist in New Zealand's food manufacturing industry, had been applying for new jobs since March 2023 before securing a new role nine months later in Australia.

She said employers in New Zealand often demonstrated a high degree of caution in their hiring practices, often preferring referrals to identify candidates they felt more comfortable with.

"I sent out numerous resumes and interviewed with more than 10 companies, sometimes attending four or five interviews in a month, but none of them has led to a job," Han said.

"Many jobs require native-level English proficiency or a strong understanding of the local culture," she said. "Employers often prefer candidates with a similar background to their own, unless it's an international company that values workforce diversity."

Han said immigrants typically had established limited professional networks in New Zealand, which ultimately lead to fewer contacts and referrals to help them access job opportunities.

"Immigrants often require higher skills than natives to secure equivalent positions," she said.

After several attempts to secure employment in New Zealand, Han and her husband opted to leave the country and seek opportunities in Australia, finally managing to secure a job in Melbourne in December.

Han said numerous individuals in similar circumstances had similarly decided to leave New Zealand, citing better job prospects in Australia.

Gupta understands the challenges that immigrants face firsthand.

He said migrants in New Zealand may also encounter issues such as exploitation and unconscious bias in their job search.

"The people who have been here [in New Zealand] have local experience, local knowledge of the market ... they are definitely on a better footing," he said. "However, the general issues that migrants face like exploitation, hidden racism, which is under the radar, will remain, it doesn't go away. When in an environment where a lot of Kiwis are unemployed, migrants will face a lot of issues and their problems will also increase."

Maretha Smit, chief executive of Diversity Works New Zealand

Diversity Works New Zealand chief executive Maretha Smit Photo: Supplied

Diversity Works New Zealand chief executive Maretha Smit said migrants faced multiple hurdles in securing employment in New Zealand, noting that bias was one of the biggest barriers.

"There are unconscious biases related to culture, ethnicity, nationality and accent, which often manifest in hiring decisions and workplace interactions," she said. "There are also systemic biases in organisations, which means that the needs for our migrant communities aren't always taken into account."

Smit said it was difficult for migrants to convince potential employers that their overseas experience counted for anything in New Zealand.

"Overseas qualifications and experience are often not recognised by New Zealand employers, which means that they've got difficulties in securing employment in their field," she said. "The strict criteria and job descriptions might mean that if their qualification isn't recognised, they don't make it through those hiring gates."

Smit said people from non-dominant groups, including migrants, women and young people, were experiencing difficult workplace situations and would be disproportionately impacted by higher unemployment.

"The power dynamics in organisations might shift towards reflecting less diversity," she said. "When environments and economies are under pressure, people are more at risk of activating their biases and placing trust in people who are more like them. So that's where I think we will see the impact."

Gupta said the government should offer migrants support to help them develop skills and prepare for the future job market.

He believed that more job opportunities for migrant workers would emerge as the economy grew.

Smit agreed, expressing hope for a swift recovery of the New Zealand economy to provide opportunities for those who have lost jobs to re-enter the workforce.

A spokesperson from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment said Immigration New Zealand offered resources related to employment and support for migrants, including guidance on crafting a CV suitable for the domestic job market.

Immigration New Zealand also backed the Welcoming Communities initiative, which involves 34 local councils and boards nationwide and aimed to help newcomers feel embraced and integrated within their local communities.

The initiative provides opportunities for newcomers to utilise their skills and talents in areas such as employment, volunteering and other activities.

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