Seeking “Greener Pastures”? Reasons for Immigrating

Unlike earlier Chinese immigrants to New Zealand, who were mostly peasants from South China and forced to leave their homeland because of disasters and warfare, most new PRC migrants are highly educated and have specialized skills and financial capital, which allows them to meet the entry criteria (Friesen and Ip 1997). Looking for economic opportunities overseas is no longer the primary reason for new Chinese migrants to immigrate; rather, they are often motivated by non-economic reasons, including searching for “greener pastures”. A better lifestyle, an advanced education system and the securing of foreign passports have propelled this migratory movement (Liu 2011, 2014).

In the years 2007-2009 I conducted multisite interviews with 47 new PRC migrants in New Zealand, Australia and China to find out about their transnational mobility.9 Socially, they see New Zealand as safe, liberal and easy-going. Politically, its democratic and stable government is perceived as better than China’s. In practice, the entry criteria and living costs are lower than those of the USA, Canada and Australia. The natural environment, the advanced education system and the welfare system are also attractive (Friesen and Ip 1997; Ip 2006b; Liu 2011).

These findings coincide with the data from Longitudinal Immigration Survey: New Zealand, which shows that the attraction of New Zealand is often environmental, educational and social (Department of Labour 2009). This suggests that the country occupies a unique position in the world migration system. With competition for skilled migrants from the USA, Canada and Australia, New Zealand is not the first choice for many PRC migrants. According to one survey, the favorite destination is the USA, followed by Canada and Australia (Luo et al. 2003). New Zealand ranks fourth.

Another factor that causes PRC immigrants to choose to go to New Zealand is the country’s historical ties to Britain, which gives it the image of a Western society. This is important for many PRC migrants. Quite often, interviewees see going to New Zealand as “going to the outside world to have a look,” “an eye-opening experience” or “getting a gilded wrapping for myself (!Ж^)”. The “outside world” and “an eye-opening experience” refer to experiencing life in Western countries, and “getting a gilded wrapping” means that an overseas experience or degree can give someone a valuable credential and an international outlook. These help on China’s job market (Liu 2011).

More recently, wealthy Chinese have turned moving to New Zealand into a social phenomenon. They are labeled as “lifestyle migrants” (Spoonley et al. 2009) who possess great financial assets and whose immigration is generated by the desire to secure their wealth, a different education for their children, less air pollution and greater food safety. Liu-Farrer (2016) suggests that the most recent wave of emigration from China is a form of class consumption, a strategy of class reproduction, and a way of converting economic resources into social status and prestige. My New Zealand studies confirm this trend. My research on the transnational migratory mobility of PRC migrants shows that New Zealand citizenship, which immigrants can obtain after a five-year stay, gives the Chinese greater transnational mobility. With improved mobility, they can move to a third country and reach their goal—not necessarily New Zealand (Liu 2011, 2014, 2015).

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