Immigrants: overqualified and over here?

Kiwis in general are a tolerant lot and more curious than rejecting of migrants

This may come as a surprise to some, but I am a foreigner. My foreigness started in Finland and was exacerbated through living and working in various European countries as well as Singapore before coming to New Zealand.

I have been “foreigning it” in Aotearoa for over a decade now and got away with it by and large. The food was bit difficult to handle at first (haven’t you guys heard of pickled herring, raw onion and vodka?) and one editor says he still can’t pronounce my name.

I miss proper sports like ice hockey and real football but it’s not so bad here really.

Levity apart, I was surprised to read Ulrika Hedquist’s (another foreigner) story last week on how some Kiwi companies are reluctant to hire migrants. This despite a massive skills shortage, which means employers can’t get the labour they badly need, for love or money. Despite global competition for ICT talent, these people have foregone higher-paying jobs elsewhere to live and work in New Zealand instead.

Hedquist’s isn’t the only report on migrants being discriminated against. The editor of CIO magazine, Divina Paredes, recently won the PriceWaterhouseCoopers Hi-Tech Journalist of the Year Award for a well-researched piece on overseas ICT workers being discriminated against — and industry figures are admitting it’s a problem.

I must confess that I’ve come across very little discrimination in New Zealand, compared to some countries in Europe and Asia that I’ve lived in. Then again, I’m from Europe and unless I tattoo “FOREIGNER” across my forehead, well, it’s not that obvious.

Kiwis in general are a tolerant lot and more curious than rejecting of migrants, I find. Occasionally, you will bump into some loony, like the person who asked me if I was happy being back in a First World country after Singapore, but they are rare indeed.

Having said that, more “blatant” foreigners seem to run into problems. There’s the former manager of Hewlett-Packard’s million dollar Middle-Eastern unix business who drives a taxi in New Zealand because that was the only job for him.

He said he was happy with the career change, but there was a twinge of bitterness in his voice. The bitterness didn’t come from driving a taxi as such, but from sending out lots of job applications in vain. Nobody wants to hire you because you are different, and there’s nothing you can do about it.

Much of the discrimination will be subtle too, like the dreaded “New Zealand experience” requirement. I have never come across anything like that overseas, and would love to know if Kiwis put “New Zealand Experience” as a qualification on their CVs when they go travelling.

Such institutionalised discrimination hurts not just the migrants, but also the companies that willingly miss out on qualified staff who may also bring different, refreshing views that traditional workers don’t have.

The reality is that ICT honours few boundaries like geography and ethnicity, so looking for a heterogenous staff make-up is a fool’s errand at best.

At worst, it’s firing a very large gun at both feet of your business because of irrational personal prejudice.

Speaking of personal stuff, until you experience it yourself, it’s hard to understand how painful discrimination can be. Most Kiwis of British origin aren’t likely to ever encounter it, and I hope they never will.

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