Strong history, bright future: Harnessing
New Zealand’s connections with Southeast Asia

A new Asia New Zealand Foundation report shines a light on the depth of New Zealand’s relationship with Southeast Asia, particularly the people-to-people links.

Watch a slideshow of infographics depicting some of the reports findings

The report – Relations and Relationships: 40 years of people movements from ASEAN countries to New Zealand ­­– covers the many facets of Southeast Asian immigration to New Zealand, including:   

  • The Colombo Plan, which saw thousands of Southeast Asian students study in New Zealand on scholarships between the 1950s and 1970s
  • Contemporary fee-paying international students, particularly from Thailand, Vietnam and Malaysia
  • Skilled migration, particularly from the Philippines, the largest source of ASEAN-origin residents in New Zealand
  • Early refugees from Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam – and later from Myanmar, which has been New Zealand’s largest source of refugees since the mid-2000s
  • Tourists and short-term visitors, particularly from Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand and the Philippines

The Asia New Zealand Foundation commissioned the report from Dr Kate McMillan (Victoria University of Wellington) as part of a suite of research papers to mark the 40th anniversary of New Zealand’s diplomatic relationship with ASEAN (the Association of South East Asian Nations).

Over the past four decades, the number of people visiting New Zealand from the 10 ASEAN countries on either a permanent or temporary basis has been increasing at a slow but steady rate. However, the profile of ASEAN migrants has changed and diversified.

“Where early flows were dominated by refugees from Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam, contemporary movements include highly skilled professionals intending to live permanently in New Zealand, young people on working holiday visas, seasonal horticultural workers, full-fee-paying students, tourists, touring artists, musicians and scholars, refugees and business visitors,” Dr McMillan writes.

The report notes that Southeast Asia has long been a migration hub. Migration between ASEAN countries accounted for more than a third of the world’s cross-border migration in 2013.

Asia New Zealand Foundation executive director Simon Draper says the report shows the many ways Southeast Asian immigrants have contributed to New Zealand, both socially and economically. “They will continue to play a valuable role as New Zealand’s engagement with ASEAN grows.

“We know from our annual Perceptions of Asia and Asian Peoples survey that personal interactions with Asian people are vital when it comes to building New Zealanders’ confidence in interacting with Asia as a whole.

“Our people-to-people connections with ASEAN have diversified in recent years.  For instance, this week the Asia New Zealand Foundation is hosting 10 Southeast Asian entrepreneurs through the ASEAN Young Business Leaders Initiative – a government programme that has already been successful in building warm and productive ties between New Zealand and Southeast Asia.”

Dr Kate McMillan discusses her report at its launch in Wellington

Relations and Relationships: 40 years of people movements from ASEAN countries to New Zealand incorporates short profiles of individuals of Southeast Asian heritage who represent various migration flows from ASEAN to New Zealand. They include:

  • Laila Faisal, who came to New Zealand as a scholarship student from Indonesia in 1998 and now works as a learning adviser at Victoria University of Wellington.
  • Laotian New Zealander Samson Phommachack, who grew up in Wainuiomata, Lower Hutt, and is co-founder of digital technology firm Vizbot, as well as a member of the Asia New Zealand Foundation Leadership Network.
  • Indonesia’s Indradi Soemardjan, who visited New Zealand through the ASEAN Young Business Leaders Initiative and has gone on to be a valuable resource and advocate for New Zealand businesspeople and entrepreneurs.

The Asia New Zealand Foundation has also recently published New Zealand and ASEAN: A History by Dr Malcolm McKinnon and ASEAN’s Relations with the Great Powers in the Post-Cold War Era — Challenges and Opportunities by Dr Nicholas Khoo.