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Population movement in the Pacific: A perspective on future prospects


We have estimated that by 2010 around 850,000 people of Pacific island ancestry or ethnicity would have been living in the four  Pacific Rim ‘countries of immigration’: New Zealand (350,000), Australia (150,000), USA (300,000) and Canada (50,000). These figures are based on some pro-rata adjustments to the last published census data for 2000 (USA) and 2006 (Australia, Canada and New Zealand). The combined total of these populations is larger than the SPC’s estimates of the total populations of either Micronesia (547,300) or Polynesia (663,960) in 2010 (Table 1).

There are also small Pacific populations in the United Kingdom, Europe and parts of Asia. The overall size of the global diaspora of Pacific peoples, measured in terms of ancestry/ethnic identity, could have been close to one million in 2010.

According to the Australian and New Zealand censuses of 1971, around 46,000 Pacific-born people were living in the two countries (16,000 in Australia and 30,000 in New Zealand). In 2006 that figure had risen to just under 250,000 (106,900 in Australia and 138,400 in New Zealand). This means the Pacific-born populations increased by 440 percent between 1971 and 2006. If that percentage increase repeated by 2050, the Pacific-born population in the two countries would total around 1.15 million.  

Pacific peoples, collectively, have been one of the major populations defined by ethnicity in New Zealand since the 1980s. They are one of only two populations with their own ministry (Pacific Island Affairs)—the other is for New Zealand’s indigenous Maori population (Te Puni Kōkiri). There is a certain symmetry in this distinctive identity that Pacific peoples (or ‘Pasifika’, as they are often termed locally) have in New Zealand’s polity and society: the Maori are a Polynesian people.

4.1  Continuity through change

Around 800 years ago Pacific Islanders from Polynesia settled Aotearoa. Through their occupation of the various islands that comprise New Zealand, these Polynesians, known to Europeans as Māori, became the ‘tangata whenua’ or ‘people of the land’.[2]

Six hundred years later, Europeans began arriving, often via Australia, and some wanted to stay. A treaty between the tangata whenua and representatives of the immigrants in 1840 paved the way for the settlement of New Zealand by Europeans and several other peoples who came as traders, seafarers, soldiers or labourers. Among others, Chinese, Indians and new waves of Pacific islanders came to live in New Zealand.

Several Māori chiefs had signed the ‘Treaty of Waitangi’, with its preamble that authorised the entry of British subjects. But Māori did not have any say in who actually migrated to New Zealand. It was the settler-dominated government that set the rules about immigration. The immigrants quickly came to dominate in all spheres of economic, social and political life.

The impact of European migration and settlement was devastating for all indigenous peoples of the region, including Australia and New Zealand, but it was not fatal. Māori, Australia’s Aboriginal peoples and Pacific islanders all survived the arrival of people on boats from Europe, with their alien diseases, superior weapons and strange customs. Later, as migrants settled in their new countries, new societies and economies emerged. By the 1880s the European immigrants were implementing regulations to restrict entry to what was now regarded as ‘their’ country. Immigration policies in Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the United States placed heavy restrictions on the entry of Asians from the late 19th century until well into the second half of the 20th century.

Notwithstanding these restrictions, the four Pacific Rim countries became known as ‘countries of immigration’ because of their recent settlement by people from Europe. And these were countries where successive governments had sought immigrants, usually from Europe—in some cases even paying them to come and settle in a ‘New World’.

Pacific Islanders were not excluded from this movement—especially in Australia, where a major shortage of labour in Queensland’s burgeoning sugar-cane plantations from the mid-19th century resulted in a significant demand for and migration of Melanesian labour, especially from the islands that now comprise Vanuatu. This labour trade—or ‘blackbirding’, as it became known—was ended in 1906 after the creation of the Condominium of the New Hebrides (now Vanuatu).

Just as Australia was ending its recruitment of labour from the Pacific around the turn of the 20th century, New Zealand was assuming responsibility for administering the Cook Islands and Niue. The Tokelau Islands were added to New Zealand’s Pacific ‘realm’ in the 1920s. The League of Nations Mandated Territory of Western Samoa passed from German to New Zealand control after the First World War. At the same time, the Australian Government assumed responsibility for the German colony in New Guinea, linking this with Papua (which it had taken over from the British in the late 1890s) to form the Territory of Papua New Guinea.

These administrative responsibilities were not accompanied by any significant migration from the colonies to New Zealand and Australia until after the The Second World War. The New Zealand Census of 1945 recorded just over 3,000 people born in the Pacific; the Australian census two years later recorded 4,731 Pacific-born. In both countries, the main source country for their Pacific-born was Fiji (1,173 in New Zealand and 1,508 in Australia). The second largest groups were from colonies—Samoa, Cook Island and Niue in New Zealand’s case and Papua New Guinea in Australia’s. These were the beginnings of the Pacific diaspora that were to rise dramatically in the two countries from the 1960s on (Figure 7).

Figure 7: Birthplaces of populations born in the Pacific but resident in Australia and New Zealand, mid-1940s to 2006

Figure 7: Birthplaces of populations born in the Pacific but  resident in Australia and New Zealand,  mid-1940s to 2006.

Data sources: Australian and New Zealand censuses, 1945/472006

Description for Figure 7

By the mid-1950s New Zealand’s Pacific-born population had exceeded Australia’s. Through the 1960s and 1970s it grew much more rapidly as a result of:

By 1971 New Zealand’s Pacific-born population (just under 31,000) was almost twice the size of Australia’s (16,700). The compositions of the respective Pacific populations varied markedly (Figure 7). Just over half (53 percent) of Australia’s were from Papua New Guinea, and 85 percent of the 16,700 had been born in a country in Melanesia. In New Zealand by far the largest group was the Samoa-born (40 percent of the 30,900), and 81 percent were from countries in Polynesia. The one common feature was the position of Fiji as the second-ranked source of Pacific-born—5,274 in Fiji and 4,012 in Australia. After the first military coup in 1987, Fiji became Australia’s largest source of Pacific-born. Samoa has remained the biggest source of Pacific migrants in New Zealand since the mid-1950s (Figure 7).

New Zealand’s Pacific-born population has remained larger than Australia’s since the mid-1950s because of a range of policies that gave people from selected Pacific countries privileged access to work and reside. Until very recently, Australia had never had policies favouring entry of citizens from any countries other than New Zealand. Under the terms of the Trans-Tasman Travel Arrangement, New Zealand citizens (including Cook Island Māori, Niueans and Tokelauans who gained this status when a separate New Zealand citizenship was established in 1948) can stay in Australia as long as they wish without going through any immigrant selection programme. Many Pacific Islanders have taken advantage of this access after gaining New Zealand citizenship (see section 4.2 below).   

At the 2006 censuses in Australia and New Zealand, their respective Pacific-born populations totalled 106,900 and 138,400 (Table 15). The Melanesia-born continued to dominate in Australia (71 percent), with 45 percent born in Fiji. There was also a Samoa-born population of more than 15,000—the third-largest group by country of birth. In New Zealand, Samoa remained by far the largest single country of birth (37 percent), followed by Fiji (28 percent) and Tonga (15 percent).

The dominance of countries in Polynesia as sources remained (69 percent), but it was declining as flows from Fiji and other parts of Melanesia increased in the 2000s. This was brought about by three main factors:

Table 15:  Pacific island-born populations, New Zealand and Australia, 2006

Subregion/country New Zealand Australia ANZ
Number % Number % Number %
Melanesia 41,184 29.8 75,756 71.3 116,940 47.8
Fiji 38,679 27.9 48,145 45.3 86,824 35.5
New Caledonia 273 0.2 1,102 1.0 1,375 0.6
Papua New Guinea 1,329 1.0 24,022 22.6 25,351 10.4
Solomon Islands 549 0.4 1,495 1.4 2,044 0.8
Vanuatu 354 0.3 986 0.9 1,340 0.5
Melanesia nfd 0 0.0 6 0.0 6 0.0
Micronesia 1,203 0.9 1,059 1.0 2,262 0.9
Federated States (FSM) 51 0.0 15 0.0 66 0.0
Guam 24 0.0 78 0.1 102 0.0
Kiribati 846 0.6 395 0.4 1,241 0.5
Marshall Islands 21 0.0 33 0.0 54 0.0
Nauru 246 0.2 487 0.5 733 0.3
Northern Mariana Islands 9 0.0 12 0.0 21 0.0
Palau 6 0.0 13 0.0 19 0.0
Micronesia nfd 0 0.0 26 0.0 26 0.0
Polynesia 96,039 69.4 29,491 27.7 125,530 51.3
American Samoa 495 0.4 199 0.2 694 0.3
Cook Islands 14,817 10.7 5,026 4.7 19,843 8.1
French Polynesia 1,053 0.8 337 0.3 1,390 0.6
Niue 4,878 3.5 577 0.5 5,455 2.2
Samoa 51,108 36.9 15,236 14.3 66,344 27.1
Tokelau 1,596 1.2 355 0.3 1,951 0.8
Tonga 20,748 15.0 7,582 7.1 28,330 11.6
Tuvalu 1,248 0.9 116 0.1 1,364 0.6
Wallis and Futuna 12 0.0 18 0.0 30 0.0
Polynesia nfd 84 0.1 45 0.0 129 0.1
Pacific Islands 138,426 100.0 106,306 100.0 244,732 100.0

Source: Unpublished tables, Statistics New Zealand and Australian Bureau of Statistics

The migrant populations from Fiji in both countries include a significant number of Indians. The Fiji-born Indian populations in Australia (29,735) and New Zealand (29,733) in 2006 were almost identical in size. Both countries received some migration of Fiji Indians in the 1960s and 1970s, but the main movement has come since the military coups in 1987. Most Fiji Indian migrants admitted in recent years have had the skills and/or capital to qualify under Australia’s and New Zealand’s points selection systems and business migration categories.

Access to residence in Australia and New Zealand

Theoretically, in policy terms at least, Pacific peoples have the same opportunities as people from other countries to seek work and residence in Australia and New Zealand. This access is framed in the form of the destination countries’ current points-based selection systems; provision for family reunion and sponsorship; and a range of international or humanitarian categories that accommodate small numbers of migrants each year.

In practice, however, the skills-based points systems do not target the skills of most Pacific peoples, especially those from rural areas. The main routes to residence in New Zealand have been through:

In Australia’s case, Pacific numbers have built in the post-war period through a combination of:

As we have already noted, these two countries have differed quite markedly in their approaches to migration from the Pacific (Bedford et al 2007). Since The Second World War, New Zealand has generally given more priority to its Pacific neighbours in both immigration policy and foreign affairs. Australia has played a key role in developing the commercial economies (especially the plantation, retail and service sectors) of all of the Melanesian countries except New Caledonia.

However, its immigration policy has never prioritised the Pacific, and only Papua New Guinea has been a consistent element of the country’s aid and foreign policy in the region. Indeed, Australian immigration officials have persistently denied any special relationships with Pacific countries—they are treated the same as other countries (except for New Zealand).

When we examined residence approvals for citizens of Pacific countries between July 2003 and June 2007, we found three times more Pacific people moving to New Zealand than to Australia with the intention of settling (Table 16a). Melanesia, especially Fiji, is the dominant origin for Pacific Islanders moving to Australia, while the Polynesian countries of Samoa and Tonga remain more important for New Zealand. Distinctively different patterns are in evidence if we consider skilled and family migrants separately.

Melanesia, especially Fiji, is the source of more than 90 percent of skilled migrants in both countries (Table 16b). New Zealand’s share of the skilled migrant intake from the Pacific is much less than that of all settlers from the region, which perhaps indicates that Australia is a preferred destination for skilled migrants. Family migration is much more important in New Zealand (Table 16c). Polynesian flows of family migrants are much bigger than the skilled inflows in both countries.

Even greater shares of migrants in the international/humanitarian streams for both countries enter New Zealand under the special quota systems that apply for Samoa and the Pacific Access Category (PAC), which allows for entry of small numbers each year from Tonga (250), Kiribati (75) and Tuvalu (75). New Zealand’s more liberal entry policies for Pacific migrants, especially through the residence quotas for selected countries, have boosted growth in Australia’s Pacific-born populations through trans-Tasman migration.

Table 16: Approvals for residence in Australia and New Zealand, Pacific citizens, July 2003 to June 2007

a) All approvals

Subregion Australia NZ Total ANZ % NZ
Melanesia 7,835 10,369 18,204 57
Fiji 6,466 10,138 16,604 61.1
PNG 1,086 84 1,170 7.7
Micronesia 77 554 631 94.5
Kiribati 19 521 540 96.5
Polynesia 845 14,574 15,419 94.5
Samoa 369 8,584 8,953 95.9
Tonga 432 5,230 5,662 92.4
Pacific 8,757 25,497 34,254 74.4
% Melanesia 89.4 40.7 53.1

 b) Skilled migrants

Subregion Australia NZ Total ANZ % NZ
Melanesia 3,738 4,098 7,836 52.4
Fiji 3,275 3,992 7,267 54.9
PNG 382 20 402 5
Micronesia 28 15 45 33.3
Kiribati 0 10 10 100
Polynesia 74 264 338 78.1
Samoa 20 63 83 76.8
Tonga 40 173 213 81.2
Pacific 3,840 4,377 8,219 53.3
% Melanesia 97.3 93.6 85.3

c) Family categories

Sub-region Australia NZ Total ANZ % NZ
Melanesia 3,683 4,390 8,073 54.3
Fiji 2,962 4,281 7,243 59.1
PNG 554 54 608 8.9
Micronesia 40 79 119 66.4
Kiribati 19 64 83 77.1
Polynesia 501 5,549 6,050 91.7
Samoa 130 3,127 3,257 96
Tonga 364 2,194 2,558 85.8
Pacific 4,224 10,018 14,242 70.3
% Melanesia 87.2 43.8 56.7

Source: Unpublished tables, DIAC (Australia) and DoL (NZ)

4.3  Trans-Tasman Pacific migration

Trans-Tasman migration of Pacific peoples has been a feature of the population exchanges between New Zealand and Australia since the early 19th century (Bedford 1992). Until the 1970s, however, the flows of Pacific-born people between the two countries were very small. The acceleration of Pacific migration to New Zealand after The Second World War was reflected in an increasing trans-Tasman movement of people born in the Pacific, especially among those entitled to New Zealand citizenship.

At times the Australian Government expressed concern about this ‘back door’ entry. But as long as New Zealand citizens were permitted to enter Australia without having to apply for specific visas entitling them to work and live there, the Government had no way of limiting the flow of Pacific Islanders who were New Zealand citizens.

As Table 17 shows, many Pacific Islanders, especially Samoans and Cook Islanders, have clearly entered Australia via New Zealand under the trans-Tasman Agreement—in fact, around 20 percent of Australia’s Pacific island-born population in 2008. This proportion may be even higher, since some may have taken out Australian citizenship before the change in Australia’s social security legislation—this has made it harder for New Zealanders to access employment-related benefits in Australia since 2001 (Bedford et al 2003).

Table 17:  Pacific-born NZ citizens in Australia, June 2008

Country Number
Western Samoa 12,137
Cook Islands 6,293
Fiji 2,858
Tonga 1,450
Niue 890
Other Pacific 1,113

Source: DIAC (2008: 44)

However, the trans-Tasman movement of Pacific peoples is not all one way. The 2006 census results revealed that the major ethnic/ancestry populations of Pacific indigenous groups living in both countries included people born in their ‘home’ countries as well as New Zealand, Australia and other countries (Table 18). There were quite marked variations in the distributions by birthplace, but in several cases the share of New-Zealand born in the ethnic/ancestry group living in Australia was much bigger than the other way around. This indicates the trans-Tasman movement has tended to favour Australia.

An interesting exception (shown in Table 18) is Cook Islanders, Niueans and Tokelauans—their share of New Zealand-born people in Australia (8.4 percent) was much smaller than the share of Australia-born in New Zealand (14.1 percent). However, the number of New Zealand-born Cook Island Maori, Niueans and Tokelauans to Australia (5,758) was much larger than the number of Australia-born in this ethnic cluster resident in New Zealand in 2006 (693). Also, far fewer New Zealand-born Tongans were living in Australia (8.5 percent) than NewZealand-born Samoans (15.7) or Fijians (15.1 percent).

Between July 2001 and June 2006 the net migration gain to Australia of Pacific-born permanent and long-term trans-Tasman migrants was around 3,200—more than half of this gain (1,713) was Samoa-born migrants who had lived in New Zealand (Table 19). The second largest group was the Fiji-born (747) comprising Fijians as well as Fiji Indians.

The ethnicity of arrivals and departures in New Zealand’s border statistics is not so easy to determine. With the total flows of Pacific-born migrants across the Tasman, New Zealand shows a net gain of Fiji-born (900), a larger net loss of Samoa-born (2,471) and a much smaller net loss of all Pacific-born to Australia. However, these net gains and losses derived from the total flows (PLT plus short-term) need to be interpreted with some caution, because only a sample of the arrival and departure cards for people entering and leaving New Zealand for less than 12 months are processed. There is a sampling error associated with the statistics for numbers entering and leaving the country, and this error becomes significant when small flows are examined.

Table 18: Pacific ethnic/ancestry populations resident in New Zealand and Australia in 2006, by birthplace

group by birthplace
Place of
residence 2006
% total
NZ Aust ANZ in NZ in Aust
Fiji 5,241 10,466 15,707 33.4 66.6
New Zealand 4,251 754 5,005 84.9 15.1
Australia 84 7,138 7,222 1.2 98.8
Other countries1 285 156 441 64.6 35.4
Total 9,861 18,514 28,375 34.8 65.2
Other Melanesian
Home country 858 7,765 8,623 10 90
New Zealand 408 56 464 87.9 12.1
Australia 24 5,803 5,827 0.4 99.6
Other countries1 72 147 219 32.9 67.1
Total 1,362 13,771 15,133 9 91
Kiribati 585 152 737 79.4 20.6
New Zealand 372 15 387 96.1 3.9
Australia 9 190 199 4.5 95.5
Other countries1 150 108 258 58.1 41.9
Total 1,116 465 1,581 70.6 29.4
Home country 20,508 4,076 24,584 83.4 16.6
New Zealand 62,787 5,758 68,545 91.6 8.4
Australia 693 4,206 4,899 14.1 85.9
Other countries1 3,318 226 3,544 93.6 6.4
Total 87,306 14,266 101,572 86 14
Samoa 49,860 12,131 61,991 80.4 19.6
New Zealand 77,244 14,409 91,653 84.3 15.7
Australia 1,071 11,861 12,932 8.3 91.7
Other countries1 2,928 450 3,378 86.7 13.3
Total 131,103 38,851 169,954 77.1 22.9
Tonga 20,241 6,181 26,422 76.6 23.4
New Zealand 27,696 2,572 30,268 91.5 8.5
Australia 402 8,495 8,897 4.5 95.5
Other countries1 2,139 423 2,562 83.5 16.5
Total 50,478 17,671 68,149 74.1 25.9
Other Pacific2
Pacific countries 2,094 1,558 3,652 57.3 42.7
New Zealand 3,348 843 4,191 79.9 20.1
Australia 312 1,868 2,180 14.3 85.7
Other countries1 789 90 879 89.8 10.2
Total 6,543 4,359 10,902 60 40

Source: Unpublished census data, Australia and NZ


Table 19:  Pacific-born trans-Tasman migrants, July 2001 to June 2006

Subregion and
country of birth
PLT Total
Arrival Departure Gain/loss Arrival Departure Gain/loss
Melanesia 560 1327 -767 38951 37826 1125
Fiji 452 1199 -747 32248 31348 900
New Caledonia 7 10 -3 512 347 165
PNG 84 98 -14 5486 5738 -252
Solomon Islands 14 12 2 390 197 193
Vanuatu 3 8 -5 315 196 119
Micronesia 9 20 -11 484 387 97
Federated States (FSM) 0 1 -1 17 1 16
Guam 0 0 0 77 23 54
Kiribati 3 11 -8 200 273 -73
Marshall Islands 0 0 0 0 0 0
Nauru 5 7 -2 157 89 68
Nthern Mariana Islands 0 1 -1 16 1 15
Palau 1 0 1 17 0 17
Polynesia 1199 3681 -2482 47951 50789 -2838
American Samoa 2 40 -38 422 433 -11
Cook Islands 216 581 -365 9623 9178 445
French Polynesia 9 15 -6 416 322 94
Niue 45 179 -134 1512 1689 -177
Pitcairn 0 0 0 44 56 -12
Samoa 739 2452 -1713 25011 27482 -2471
Tokelau 18 67 -49 367 530 -163
Tonga 164 335 -171 10419 10963 -544
Tuvalu 6 12 -6 113 108 5
Wallis and Futuna 0 0 0 24 28 -4
Pacific 1768 5028 -3260 87386 89002 -1616

Source: Unpublished arrival and departure statistics, Australia and NZ

The main point to take from the data above is that flows between the two countries are complex—the often cited expression ‘exodus’ of New Zealand residents to Australia does not do them justice. Pacific societies, which have major population concentrations in the islands as well as New Zealand, Australia and the United States, are linked through complex overlapping circuits of people, money, goods and information. These are best viewed as interconnected trans-national societies rather than as separate populations of Pacific peoples. The dynamics of population movement between the islands and Australia and New Zealand are very much affected by these interconnections.

The importance of the Australian connection in the PLT arrivals and departures of Pacific-born migrants between July 2001 and June 2006 varied considerably by country of birth. Not surprisingly, trans-Tasman PLT arrivals and departures accounted for much higher proportions of those Pacific-born people who were New Zealand citizens by right (Cook Islanders, Niueans or Tokelauans) or who had special arrangements for access to New Zealand citizenship, such as the Samoan Quota (Table 20).

Table 20:  Trans-Tasman share of all Pacific-born PLT migrants entering and leaving New Zealand, July 2001 to June 2006

Subregion and
country of birth
Arrivals Departures
Melanesia 560 13478 4.2 1327 3623 36.6
Fiji 452 12265 3.7 1199 2716 44.1
New Caledonia 7 138 5.1 10 62 16.1
Papua New Guinea 84 565 14.9 98 421 23.3
Solomon Islands 14 366 3.8 12 312 3.8
Vanuatu 3 144 2.1 8 112 7.1
Micronesia 9 244 3.7 20 204 9.8
Federated States (FSM) 0 8 0 1 9 11.1
Guam 0 5 0 0 1 0
Kiribati 3 173 1.7 11 158 7
Marshall Islands 0 13 0 0 1 0
Nauru 5 33 15.2 7 31 22.6
Nthern Mariana Islands 0 4 0 1 1 100
Palau 1 8 12.5 0 3 0
Polynesia 1199 12738 9.4 3681 8280 44.5
American Samoa 2 176 1.1 40 161 24.8
Cook Islands 216 1379 15.7 581 1302 44.6
French Polynesia 9 189 4.8 15 73 20.5
Niue 45 291 15.5 179 327 54.7
Pitcairn 0 2 0 0 5 0
Samoa 739 7007 10.5 2452 4634 52.9
Tokelau 18 230 7.8 67 170 39.4
Tonga 164 3338 4.9 335 1457 23
Tuvalu 6 120 5 12 148 8.1
Wallis and Futuna 0 6 0 0 3 0
Pacific 1768 26460 6.7 5028 12,107 41.5

Source: Bedford (2008: 154)

The number of departures with Australia as their country of next permanent residence who were born in countries such as Niue (55 percent), Samoa (53 percent), Cook Islands (45 percent), Fiji (44 percent), Tokelau (39 percent) is relatively high. This shows clearly that return migration to the islands cannot automatically be assumed from the statistics on Pacific-born leaving New Zealand for 12 months or more. Indeed, 42 percent of all Pacific-born PLT departures from New Zealand moved across the Tasman rather than to the islands or other destinations between I July 2002 and 30 June 2006 (Table 20).

Migrants born in the Pacific who are entering and leaving Australia and New Zealand are not just moving between the islands and each of these countries. There is also a sizeable exchange of Pacific labour across the Tasman, especially from New Zealand to Australia, as well as movement between important nodes in the diaspora such as the United States and Canada.

4.4  North American and European Pacific diaspora

The history of migration from the Pacific to USA dates back to the sealing and whaling era of the early 19th century. This expanded further after the changes in US immigration policy in the mid-1960s, when restrictions on migration from the Asia-Pacific region were removed. Historically, most Pacific migrants to USA have come from Polynesia—usually via American Samoa, which is an unincorporated US territory. Since The Second World War, they have also come from the UN-mandated territories in Micronesia that were under American administration. Most of these early migrants settled in Hawaii and in cities along the US west coast, especially Los Angeles. A comprehensive history of the links between Pacific peoples and USA can be found in Crocombe (1995).

Between 1998 and 2007 around 22,000 Pacific Islanders obtained legal permanent residence in the United States (Table 21). The more recent flows of legal immigrants from the Pacific have been dominated by Fiji-born people. Almost three quarters of those admitted for permanent residence in the decade ending 2007 had were Fiji Indians or Fijians fleeing the civilian and military coups of 2000 and 2006 respectively.

Tongans, rather than Samoans, have been the second largest Pacific immigrant group in recent years. This reflects both the strong links the Church of the Latter Day Saints (Mormons) has with Tongan communities, as well as a tendency for many Samoan immigrants to enter USA via American Samoa. As noted earlier, American Samoans have residence rights and citizenship in USA, and a common route to America from neighbouring Samoa is via kinship connections with their aiga (extended families) in American Samoa.

Numbers entering USA as legal permanent migrants from states of Micronesia are small, because rights of residence extend to the indigenous populations of these island groups as part of their Compacts of Free Association negotiated when the US Trust Territory administration was terminated.

Table 21: Pacific-born who gained residence status in the USA, 1998-2007

Country of Birth Number
American Samoa 158
Fiji 15,321
French Polynesia 174
Kiribati 35
Marshall Islands 248
Federated States of Micronesia 49
Palau 63
Papua New Guinea 255
Samoa 1,870
Solomon Islands 55
Tonga 3,176
US Virgin Islands 58
Total 21,459

Source: US Department of Homeland Security

By 2000 the Pacific ancestry population in the United States totalled more than 200,000—approaching the size of New Zealand’s population that identified with Pacific ethnic groups. Samoans were by far the largest group, followed by Tongans and Micronesians from the northern Pacific, notwithstanding the recent domination of Fiji Indians and Fijians in the legal permanent-residence flows. By far the most Pacific peoples in USA live in Hawai’i and in the west coast cities of California, and they move extensively between these cities and their island homelands.

Canada is a much less important destination for Pacific migrants than the United States, Australia or New Zealand but, as Table 22 shows, immigration from Fiji has been significant in recent years, again linked with the military coups since the mid-1980s. In 2006, just under 97 percent of the 25,475 of the Pacific-born in Canada were from Fiji, and most were Fiji Indians joining Canada’s sizeable Indian population that had its origins in the late 19th century. Canada is an important part of the Fiji Indian diaspora, which has expanded massively in the last two decades.

Table 22: Canada: Pacific-born population, 2001 and 2006

Country of
2001 2006 % annual
American Samoa 10 na
Fiji 22,770 24,575 1.5
French Polynesia 145 105 -6.3
Guam 60 35 -10.2
Micronesia 50 na
Nauru 20 na
New Caledonia 115 115 0
Palau 20 na
Papua New Guinea 300 300 0
Samoa 65 95 7.9
Solomon Islands 30 na
Tonga 105 80 -5.3
Tuvalu 10 na
Vanuatu 10 na
Total Pacific 23,560 25,475 1.6

Source: Statistics Canada (?)

Although Australia, New Zealand and the United States are clearly key destinations for Pacific migrants, Pacific-born populations are also found in some European countries, especially the United Kingdom, France and Germany. However, as Figure 8 shows, these are very small birthplace populations compared with those in countries on the Pacific Rim. Only the UK had more than 10,000 Pacific-born residents in 2000, and France (1,056) was the only continental European country with a Pacific-born population of more than one thousand, according to OECD estimates.

The UK’s Pacific-born population is mainly from its former colonies in Melanesia (Fiji, Solomons and Vanuatu), as well as Papua New Guinea and, to a lesser extent, Kiribati (Figure 8). Germany’s Pacific-born are mainly from Samoa, which was a German colony until 1918. France’s Pacific-born come mainly from its colonies French Polynesia, New Caledonia and Wallis and Futuna, as well as from the Republic of Vanuatu, which was jointly administered until 1981 by France and Britain.

Figure 8: Pacific-born living in OECD countries, 2000

Figure 8: Pacific-born living in OECD countries, 2000.

Source: OECD (2008)

Description for Figure 8

A feature of Pacific emigration in recent years has been its diversification from the traditional destinations of New Zealand, Australia and the United States. New destinations include Japan and the Gulf states of the Middle East (Voigt-Graf 2007: 151). Thousands of Fijians have been involved in UN peace-keeping missions and working for private security firms in global trouble spots (Voigt-Graf 2007). Some of these movements are laying the foundations for further small nodes in the wider diaspora networks which are helping to transform Pacific societies and economies.

From a development perspective, of development, the size of the diaspora of Pacific Island communities living outside their country of origin is important. The diaspora is the main base for generating and sending remittances back to origin countries, as well as helping island-based development in other ways. Diasporas serve as anchors for future generations of migrants since they supply information and aid to their kin at the destination.

Figure 9 indicates the sizes of the emigrant stocks living outside selected Pacific countries. As a result of emigration out of Fiji since the 1980s coups in the 1980s, this country has the largest diaspora. However, Samoa, Tonga and Papua New Guinea also have significant numbers.

In terms of proportions of population resident overseas, Samoa and Tonga lead Fiji, but Papua New Guinea’s ranking is well down (Figure 10).

Figure 9: Emigrant stocks in 2005, selected Pacific countries and Timor Leste

Figure 9: Emigrant stocks in 2005, selected Pacific countries and Timor Leste .

Source: Ratha and Xu (2008)

Description for Figure 9

Figure 10: Emigrant stocks as a percentage of population, selected Pacific countries and Timor Leste, 2005

Figure 10: Emigrant  stocks as a percentage of population, selected Pacific countries and Timor Leste, 2005.

Source: Ratha and Xu (2008)

Description for Figure 10

The diasporas help emigrants to gain temporary entry for their kin, especially those wishing to build up capital for investment in village-based activities back in the islands. At he same time, this provides the necessary guarantees of support for kin wishing to spend time working or studying on temporary permits in New Zealand or Australia. Most Pacific citizens who spend time in these two countries on temporary visas return when their visas expire. Only a small proportion stay on illegally, often encouraged by members of the diaspora, who help them find jobs or avoid detection by immigration authorities.

The Department of Immigration and Citizenship estimated that the total number of overstayers in Australia was around 48,500 in the year ended June 2008 (Table 23). The four major sources of Pacific overstayers in Australia – Fiji, Tonga, Samoa and Papua New Guinea – accounted for around 2,100 of these, less than 5 percent. Pacific countries were well down in the ranking of overstayers in Australia despite the sizeable temporary flows of Pacific-born people in and out of the country each year. New Zealand’s overstayers in October 2010 numbered 15,614 according to Moses (2011: 1), and the main Pacific contributors were Tonga, Samoa and Fiji.

Table 23:  Estimated number of overstayers, Australia 2008

Country 2008 2007
Total 48,456   46,543
Fiji 989 (14th) 1,008
Tonga 622 (19th) 640
Samoa 272 (34th) 287
PNG 230 (35th) 253

Source: DIAC (2009: 149)

Much of the mobility between the Pacific and Australia/New Zealand is inherently circular. For example, in 2001–06, 28,600 Pacific people who were not Australian citizens moved to Australia permanently or long term and 14,600 moved in the opposite direction. Over the same period, New Zealand recorded 26,500 Pacific-born permanent and long-term arrivals compared with 12,100 departures. Clearly a big share of this reciprocal movement is return migration. However, many New Zealand departures head to Australia rather than back to the islands.

There are not many detailed studies of return migration in the Pacific. Maron and Connell (2008), who studied return to a village in Tonga, describe this as a diverse and complex process. The growth of communities of Pacific Islanders in both New Zealand and Australia has generated a high level of short-term visiting. A detailed analysis of 36,585 Pacific Island settlers arriving in New Zealand between 1998 and 2004 (Shorland 2006) found that almost two thirds had since revisited their homeland. The challenge is how best to capture the skills, capital and experience of the returning to benefit the local economy long term.

4.5  Temporary forms of movement: access to work

Permanent settlement is clearly only one part of the complex movement of people between Australia/New Zealand and the Pacific island nations. Both destination countries have temporary worker programmes attracting higher-skilled migrants, which counts out most Pacific Islanders. In Australia the ‘457 visa programme’, for temporary work visas, has grown rapidly. In the year to June 2008, it had granted entry to 134,228 people from all countries—an increase of 29 percent over the previous year. Only 1.6 percent of workers were from the Pacific, mostly Papua New Guinea and Fiji.

In New Zealand the flows of islanders on general work permits—as distinct from the visa for seasonal workers in horticulture and viticulture—are very small. Fiji has been the main source of Pacific migrants on temporary work permits in New Zealand, followed by Tonga and Samoa (Table 24).

Table 24:  Transitions to residence from work permits (WP), NZ 1997–2005

and country
of citizenship
1st time
WP approvals
to residence
by June 2005
% transition
to residence
by June 2005
Melanesia 7925 3890 49.1
Fiji 7256 3768 51.9
New Caledonia 19 7 36.8
Papua New Guinea 410 37 9.0
Solomon Islands 174 51 29.3
Vanuatu 66 27 40.9
Micronesia 388 104 26.8
Federated States (FSM) 1 1 100
Guam 0 0 0
Kiribati 360 93 25.8
Marshall Islands 0 0 0
Nauru 24 10 41.7
Nthern Mariana Islands 0 0 0
Palau 3 0 0
Polynesia 7577 4805 63.4
American Samoa 17 5 29.4
French Polynesia 23 8 34.5
Pitcairn 0 0 0
Samoa 3200 2028 63.4
Tonga 3805 2479 65.2
Tuvalu 531 285 53.6
Wallis and Futuna 1 0 0
Pacific 15890 8799 55.4

Source: Bedford (2008: 162)

Many Pacific migrants in New Zealand have shifted from from temporary work permits to residence. Table 24 details the total number of Pacific island citizens granted temporary work permits between July 1997 and June 2005, and the numbers who later transitioned to residence via the skilled migrant, family sponsorship or international streams. Over half the people granted temporary work permits during this period had gained residency by June 2005, and rates were especially high (more than 60 percent) for citizens of Samoa and Tonga (Table 24).  

Citizens of Fiji and Tuvalu also had transition rates of more than 50 percent. The lowest rate for citizens of a country where more than 100 work permits had been granted was Papua New Guinea (only 9 percent out of 410 temporary workers). This is probably due as much to the very small PNG population in New Zealand (only 1,329 in 2006, see Table 15) as to any problems these workers had with the residence transition process. Most Pacific temporary workers shifting to residence between 1997 and 2005 did so through the family sponsorship and international/humanitarian streams, and having kin already resident in New Zealand (Bedford, 2008).

While skilled Pacific Island workers have some options for moving to Australia and New Zealand on temporary visas and then gaining residence, opportunities for work-related migration opportunities for the low-skilled remain very limited.

The World Bank, in its report on Pacific labour migration, argued:

If migration is to be used as an instrument to foster greater regional stability and achieve pro poor outcomes (in the Pacific), migration options need to be extended beyond the skilled and elite to the poor and unskilled who are unlikely to find such opportunities domestically. Evidence from other parts of the world where international mobility for unskilled labour exists points to its positive impact in improving social equity in sending countries, reducing social tensions, and creating a larger consistency for economic growth and governance reform.
World Bank (2006b, ix)

A major development in recent years has been the migration programmes for seasonal agricultural worker that are outside existing arrangements for temporary migration of skilled labour. In October 2006 New Zealand’s Prime Minister announced at the Pacific Islands Forum meeting in Fiji that a scheme would be trialled to help local horticulture and viticulture employers attract immigrant seasonal workers on secure contracts. The Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) scheme was formally launched in April 2007. It prioritises recruitment of seasonal workers from the Pacific to help with planting, maintaining, harvesting and packing crops where no New Zealand workers are available.

The RSE policy is geared toward forum member states: Federated States of Micronesia, Papua New Guinea, Kiribati, Nauru, Palau, Marshall Islands, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu, Samoa and Vanuatu. Employers can recruit from other countries only if the RSE administration unit can be convinced that the employer has made a reasonable attempt to recruit from the Pacific.
RSE employees can stay in New Zealand for up to seven months at a time (or nine if they are from Kiribati and Tuvalu) and can return in consecutive seasons. Employers are encouraged to build long-term relationships with migrant workers and have access to a range of training programmes. They are obliged to pay half of the travel costs, pay for an average of at least 30 hours’ work a week, provide pastoral care and contribute to the costs of locating workers who fail to return home.

Between April 2007 and December 2010, more than 21,300 contracts for seasonal work under the RSE scheme had been taken up. The number of contracts does not equate to numbers of workers, because some workers had more than one contract in a given season, and many workers have returned to New Zealand in two or more seasons. The number of individual workers is probably closer to 15,000—around half the 30,200 places on the scheme that were actually approved during the four seasons between April 2007 and October 2010.

The numbers approved for recruitment under the scheme have always been much larger than those actually recruited, especially in 2007 and 2008 (Table 25). Of the 10,139 contracts approved between the start of the scheme in April 2007 and 11 October 2008, only 5,665 were actually signed with workers who came to New Zealand—the equivalent of 56 percent of those approved. By 2010, however, 20,401 of the 29,261 contracts approved had been allocated to workers who arrived in New Zealand—equivalent to 70 percent of the approved contracts (Table 25).

When the scheme was launched in April 2007 the Labour Government had allocated 5,000 places a year for overseas seasonal workers. During 2008 this was lifted to 8,000 places and the National-led Government that came into power in November of that year has retained this upper limit on work contracts for employers approved to recruit workers under the RSE work policy (Ramasamy et al 2008).

In no year has the number actually recruited exceeded the annual target (Table 25—see totals for periods, not cumulative totals). During 2007 and 2008 numbers increased rapidly, but the global recession slowed this recruiting momentum. Unemployment has risen in New Zealand since then. Between the October year-ends for 2009 and 2010 the number of workers contracted for employment dropped markedly—equivalent to just under 13 percent of the number signed on in the year beginning 12 October 2008 (Table 25).

Table 25: ATR applications and recruitment, April 2007 to October 2010

Period Numbers of contracts and ATRs
Approved Recruited1 No ATRs2
a)  Cumulative totals from ATR reports
April 2007 to 17 Nov 2007 3260 704 83
April 2007 to 11 Oct 2008 10139 5665 367
April 2007 to 31 Oct 2009 20192 13537 796
April 2007 to 31 Oct 2010 29261 20401 1162
b) Totals for periods
1. April 2007 to 17 Nov 2007 3260 704 83
2. 18 Nov 2007 to 11 Oct 2008 6879 4961 284
3. 12 Oct 2008 to 31 Oct 2009 10053 7872 429
4. 1 Nov 2009 to 31 Oct 2010 9069 6864 366
Total April 2007-31 Oct 2010 29261 20401 1162
c) Numerical change between periods
Change period 1–2 3619 4257 201
Change period 2–3 3174 2911 145
Change period 3–4 -984 -1008 -63
d) Percentage change between periods
% change period 1–2 111 604.7 242.2
% change period 2–3 46.1 58.7 51.1
% change period 3–4 -9.8 -12.8 -14.7

Source: Department of Labour (RSE Unit), unpublished statistics
1 Strictly speaking, the numbers refer to contracts or permits approved rather than workers—some workers could have more than one contract in a given season.
2 ATR (Application to Recruit) is the employer's request for permission to recruit workers under the RSE scheme

Despite the reduced availability of jobs for overseas seasonal workers under the RSE scheme during 2009/10, the industries concerned have continued to recruit many islanders. Between 12 October 2008 and 31 October 2009 they signed 6,121 contracts with Pacific workers, compared with 4,557 from April 2007 to 11 October 2008 (Table 26) and 5,223 from 1 November 2009 to 31 October 2010.

The major Pacific suppliers of labour for the RSE between April 2007 and October 2010 were Vanuatu (7,235), Tonga (3,817), Samoa (3,441), Solomons (1,899), Tuvalu (279) and Kiribati (230) (Table 26). The two countries that dipped the most between the 2008/09 and 2009/10 seasons were Tonga and Samoa.

Kiribati and Tuvalu gained more signed contracts after the Department of Labour introduced its Strengthening Partnerships Programme in 2009, to help these two countries to engage more effectively with the RSE (see Bedford CE et al 2010 for a review of the operation of the RSE scheme in Tuvalu).

In 2008 Australia announced a seasonal-work pilot programme for four Pacific countries: Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu, Kiribati and Tonga. The Pacific Seasonal Worker Pilot Scheme (PSWPS) was similar in concept to New Zealand’s RSE scheme, but it differs quite markedly in how it is organised and the guarantees for income while workers are in Australia. The scheme has struggled to get traction with the labour hire companies responsible for recruiting workers for Australia and managing their pastoral care. In the first two years of operation, seasonal workers attained fewer than 150 of the 2,500 permits allocated to the pilot.

The biggest group came from Tonga (around 100 during 2009 and 2010). Kiribati had 11 in 2010 and Vanuatu six in 2009. The pilot completed its arrangements for recruiting from Papua New Guinea in 2010 and began actual recruitment there in 2011—seven workers had begun by July of that year. At the forum meeting in September 2011, the Prime Minister of Australia announced that the pilot scheme was being extended to include Samoa, Solomon Islands and Tuvalu. This suggests an extension of the scheme beyond the three-year pilot is highly likely.

Table 26: Number of RSE contracts signed, April 2007 to October 2010

Countries Recruitment contracts1 % change
2007/08 2008/09 2009/10 Total 2008–09 2009–10
Kiribati 70 50 110 230 -28.6 120.0
Samoa 931 1376 1134 3441 47.8 -17.6
Solomons 303 340 256 899 12.2 -24.7
Tonga 1106 1529 1182 3817 38.2 -22.7
Tuvalu 154 49 76 279 -68.2 55.1
Vanuatu 1993 2777 2465 7235 39.3 -11.2
Total Pacific 4557 6121 5223 15901 34.3 -14.7
India 82 67 28 177 -18.3 -58.2
Indonesia 311 375 330 1016 20.6 -12.0
Malaysia 364 404 407 1175 11 0.7
Philippines 80 75 75 230 -6.3 0
Taiwan 0 39 31 70 -20.5
Thailand 269 787 768 1824 192.6 -2.4
Vietnam 1 0 0 1 -100
Japan 0 0 2 2
Total Asia 1107 1747 1641 4495 57.8 -6.1
Brazil 0 3 0 3
Czech Republic 1 0 0 1
USA    0 1 0 1
Total others 4 0 5
Total 5665 7872 6864 20401 39 -12.8

1 The numbers refer to individual contracts signed for workers who were recruited.
The three periods are:
- 2007/08: April 2007 to 11 October 2008. (No data on country of origin was included in the monthly ATR summaries until September 2008. The cumulative total to that date
was available in the September 2008 ATR.)
- 2008/09: 12 October 2008 to 31 October 2009
- 2009/10: 1 November 2009 to 31 October 2010
Source: Department of Labour (RSE Unit), unpublished statistics

In both Australia and New Zealand, the Pacific seasonal-work initiatives represent a significant departure from established migration policy, not least because they consider how such migration affects development in the origin communities. The RSE scheme and the PSWPS both apply best-practice lessons on development for the source communities. The RSE scheme was extensively analysed after its first two years of operation (Evalue Research), and the conclusion relating to development impacts was generally very positive. They reviewers observed:

Pacific governments welcome the opportunity for their young people and unwaged citizens to earn an income In New Zealand. That is of direct benefit to the workers’ families and communities at home. At a national level, Pacific states have the opportunity to leverage off the RSE Policy to strengthen their economy and work towards economic development goals. Although the Pacific economic-development goal may be a secondary aim for the New Zealand Government, the policy is extremely important for Pacific states.
(Evalue Research, 2010: 72)

Research by a team of economists from the University of Waikato and the World Bank has reinforced this positive assessment of how the RSE and PSWPS will initially help the islands (see, for example, Gibson and McKenzie 2008, 2010 and 2011; Gibson et al 2008; McKenzie et al 2008; Rohorua et al 2009). However, these authors do stress that it is still early days, and some of the social impacts of workers being away from their families back home for long periods were just beginning to surface after two to three years (see CE Bedford et al 2009).

Pressure for access to temporary work opportunities in New Zealand and Australia has intensified since the RSE and PSWPS were introduced. In New Zealand the dairy and meat-processing industries have asked the Department of Labour to extend the RSE provisions to their primary sector operations. And the post-earthquake reconstruction of Christchurch could also provide opportunities for major temporary work.

The challenge in all of these approaches is how to show a clear demand for seasonal labour—if the temporary work permits are to apply only to employment defined as unable to meet the local labour supply. In addition to the pressure from employers in New Zealand for greater access to short-term temporary labour, island governments are keen to gain for more opportunities for their working-age populations to access temporary work in New Zealand. Samoa, for example, is applying pressure for work that matches its workers’ skills and can ultimately help enhance these skills in the workforce back in Samoa.

During the 2000s, the number of temporary work permits and visas issued to Pacific citizens seeking short-term work in New Zealand soared (Table 27). The countries which have participated in the RSE scheme, especially Vanuatu and the Solomons, stand out most prominently.

Table 27: Approvals for temporary work, 2002–06 and 2007–11

and country of
Work visas/permits Percentage
2002–06 2007–11 change
Melanesia 17,188 53,907 213.6
Fiji 16,215 42,295 160.8
New Caledonia 2 5 150.0
Papua New Guinea 470 483 2.8
Solomon Islands 338 1,699 402.7
Vanuatu 163 9,425 5682.2
Micronesia 687 1632 137.6
Federated States (FSM) 10 7 -30.0
Guam 0 0 0.0
Kiribati 618 1,409 128.0
Marshall Islands 3 9 200.0
Nauru 51 203 298.0
Northern Mariana Islands 0 0 0.0
Palau 5 4 -20.0
Polynesia 9,636 27,519 185.6
American Samoa 26 33 26.9
French Polynesia 18 20 11.1
Pitcairn 0 0 0.0
Samoa 4,258 12,806 200.8
Tonga 4,560 13,567 197.5
Tuvalu 774 1,093 41.2
Wallis and Futuna 0 0 0.0
Pacific 27,511 83,058 201.9

1 Cook Islands, Niue and Tokelau are excluded, as their populations have New Zealand citizenship. Note that numbers from the French territories (New Caledonia, French Polynesia and Wallis and Futuna) are very low—many from these countries enter as French citizens. This also applies in American Samoa and Guam, as part of the United States.
Source: Department of Labour

Also significant is the rise in work permits issued to Fiji citizens between July 2006 and June 2011—a response to the military coup in December 2006. It suggests that people were seeking a route to longer-term residence through temporary work in the first instance.

No doubt demand for places in schemes such as the RSE and PSWPS will continue to grow in the islands. Only a few island countries are involved in the schemes to date, but demand is growing demand in all participating countries for more seasonal work opportunities in New Zealand and Australia. Fuelling this demand is the persistent shortage of wage-earning opportunities in the islands and the rapid growth of the youthful workforce, especially in those countries with few outlets for migration overseas.

4.6  Temporary forms of movement: students and visitors

Employment is only one reason Pacific peoples have been seeking access to temporary or long-term residence in New Zealand and Australia. One of the earliest drivers of migration from Samoa and Tonga to New Zealand in the 1960s and 1970s was access to secondary and tertiary education (see for example Macpherson et al 2000). In the islands at that time, competition for places in the best secondary schools in the islands was rigorous and no university existed. Macpherson et al observed, with reference to Samoans:

For many, especially village Samoans, migration offered two principal sets of advantages: higher, safer incomes and free, universal education to university level. For many young parents and prospective parents, the second possibility was very important and assured them that their children would have opportunities they themselves had not enjoyed. 
Macpherson et al (2000: 65)

One major reason Pacific Islanders give for participating in the seasonal work schemes in Australia and New Zealand is the need to earning money to pay school fees back in the islands or cover the costs of education offshore.  Education remains a priority, especially in Polynesia with its well-established tradition of participation in primary and secondary schooling.

Participation in primary and secondary education has deteriorated in several Pacific countries since they gained independence, largely because of the costs of maintaining schools and their staff. This is especially so in outer islands and more remote communities.  At the forum meeting in Auckland in 2011, the New Zealand and Australian Prime Ministers, John Key and Julia Gillard, reaffirmed their commitment to improving education in the region, where an estimated one million school-aged children did not attend school (Key, 2011a).

The governments hoped to ensure that 500,000 more children in the Pacific would be enrolled in school and 75 percent of all children in the region would be able to read by age 10 by 2021. They agreed that additional investment in improving literacy and numeracy, better benchmarking of education systems and enhanced education management information systems were the answer.

Australia and New Zealand are already investing heavily in developing education in the islands. In the Solomon Islands, for example, NZAID has supported a major curriculum-enhancement programme for many years involving researchers and education specialists from the University of Waikato.

In Kiribati, AusAID has been funding a very extensive overhaul of teacher training and education management in partnership with the local Ministry of Education. Both trans-Tasman countries continue to provide financial support for the University of the South Pacific, the premier regional tertiary institution in the region. But their key challenge has been to ensure the provision of primary and secondary education throughout the countries at a cost that local villages and town-dwellers can afford.

Free education beyond elementary primary school is not available in most countries in the region, and much of the senior primary and secondary education has been provided by different churches or local community groups. Recently the governments of Vanuatu and Papua New Guinea moved to fund free primary education for all children, in a major policy shift. The New Zealand and Australian governments also announced in 2010 that they were raising the numbers of funded scholarships for graduates to study in their tertiary institutions.

The numbers of permits and visas issued to Pacific-origin students for study in New Zealand between July 2001 and June 2011 are shown in Table 28. Numbers of permits/visas issued have grown most for Fiji citizens. These more than doubled in the second half of the decade, partly in response to the unsettled political situation and the challenges the Interim Fiji Government has faced in holding teachers and funding its education provision.

Numbers from Samoa, Tonga, Kiribati and Vanuatu—all kick-start states in the RSE scheme—have also shown impressive growth. A surprising counter-trend showed up in Tuvalu and the Solomon Islands, where numbers of permits for study actually fell in the late 2000s compared with those issued during the early part of the decade.

Table 28:  Approvals for study, Pacific students, 2002–06 and 2007–11

and country of
Study visas/
2002–06 2007–11 change
Melanesia 10,522 20,665 96.4
Fiji 8,696 18,927 117.7
New Caledonia 13 8 -38.5
Papua New Guinea 772 794 2.8
Solomon Islands 800 602 -24.8
Vanuatu 241 334 38.6
Micronesia 654 688 5.2
Federated States (FSM) 22 6 -72.7
Guam 0 0 0.0
Kiribati 442 626 41.6
Marshall Islands 29 25 -13.8
Nauru 148 24 -83.8
Northern Mariana Islands 0 0 0.0
Palau 13 7 -46.2
Polynesia 3,954 6,270 58.6
American Samoa 55 68 23.6
French Polynesia 17 21 23.5
Pitcairn 0 0 0.0
Samoa 1,486 2,772 86.5
Tonga 1,853 2,932 58.2
Tuvalu 543 477 -12.2
Wallis and Futuna 0 0 0.0
Pacific 15,130 27,623 82.6

Source: Department of Labour

As with temporary work, study visas/permits can often be a route, via temporary work, towards more permanent residence in New Zealand (and Australia). Table 29 contains details of the numbers of Pacific students issued a permit to study in New Zealand at some stage between July 1997 and June 2005 and who went on to seek a work permit or to seek approval for residence in New Zealand. In total just over 9,000 Pacific students were issued permits to study during the period. This number is smaller than the data for total number of permits issued shown in Table 27, because some students would have had multiple permits enabling them to return for several years to study and each permit is valid just for the immediate period of study.

The Pacific students comprised just over 4 percent of all students issued with permits to study in New Zealand during the period. Higher shares of Pacific students transitioned to temporary work (6.3 percent of the total) and residence (10 percent of the total) than those with study permits. The inference is that this is a significant route to work and residence, especially for Fiji citizens (Table 29).

Table 29: Transitions from study to work and residence, Pacific students, 1997–2005

Country 1st time
SP approvals
Transition to
work by
June 05
to residence
by June 05
Transition to
work %
to residence
New Caledonia 18 0 1 0 5.6
Papua New Guinea 639 32 27 5.0 4.2
Solomon Islands 643 66 46 10.3 7.2
Vanuatu 310 22 15 7.1 4.8
Fiji 3937 566 1569 14.4 39.9
Total Melanesia 5547 686 1658 12.4 29.9
FSM 34 0 0 0 0
Guam 0 0 0 0 0
Kiribati 318 18 63 5.7 19.8
Marshall Islands 29 1 1 3.4 3.4
Nthern Mariana Is. 0 0 0 0 0
Nauru 83 9 22 10.8 26.5
Palau 14 0 0 0 0
Total Micronesia 478 28 86 5.9 18.0
American Samoa 44 1 29 2.3 65.9
French Polynesia 27 2 1 7.4 3.7
Pitcairn 1 0 0 0 0
Tonga 1419 138 613 9.7 43.2
Tuvalu 367 16 117 4.4 31.9
Wallis and Futuna 1 0 0 0 0
Samoa 1127 109 391 9.7 34.7
Total Polynesia 2986 266 1151 8.9 38.5
Total Pacific 9011 980 2895 10.9 32.1
Total all countries 221718 15675 28853 7.1 13.0
% Pacific 4.1 6.3 10.0    

Note: SP refers to a permit or visa to study in New Zealand. The numbers shown here are for clients from Pacific countries who had their first student visa or permit approved.
Source: Bedford (2008: 166)

Increasing provision of scholarships for Pacific students in Australia and New Zealand will be accompanied longer term by increasing pressure for work and residence. This will become marked once the students have completed any bonds for service back in the islands that were a scholarship condition.

A better educated local population will also have greater aspirations for work outside village agriculture. This has certainly been the experience of Polynesia for the past 50 years and will become increasingly so in Melanesia over the next 50 years. Fostering this pressure for opportunities to work and live in New Zealand and Australia is more widespread awareness of the lifestyles Pacific peoples enjoy in cities such as Brisbane, Sydney and Auckland. This awareness is enhanced by more intensive visitor flows as well as the rapid growth of social networking (via computers and cell phones) between communities in the islands and their kin overseas.

The short-term flows of Pacific citizens who have entered New Zealand on visitor visas during the 2000s are summarised in Table 30. Growth in numbers of visas issued has been greatest for the most distant countries—those in Micronesia (96 percent) followed by those in Melanesia (Table 30). In Polynesia the greatest increases have been in Tongan and Tuvaluan visitors. Overall the numbers of visitor visas issued to Pacific citizens in the late 2000s have grown more slowly than the numbers of visas/permits for study and temporary work. This partly reflects the GEC’s effect on remittances from Australia and New Zealand back to the islands.

In Australia and New Zealand in the 21st century, we’ve had more censuses, more useful data from arrival/departure cards and visa approval databases, and increased flows of Pacific peoples from the islands. This mobility has affected the smaller Polynesian and Micronesian populations much more than the larger Melanesian populations, except for Fiji.

Table 30: Approvals to visit New Zealand, 2002–06 and 2007–11

and country
of citizenship1
Visitor visas Percentage
2002–06 2007–11 change
Melanesia 72,655 101,141 39.2
Fiji 65,019 90,979 39.9
Papua New Guinea 3,096 4,149 34.0
Solomon Islands 1,852 2,500 35.0
Vanuatu 2,688 3,513 30.7
Micronesia 1811 3556 96.4
Federated States (FSM) 119 157 31.9
Kiribati 1,343 2,785 107.4
Marshall Islands 82 164 100.0
Nauru 162 331 104.3
Palau 105 119 13.3
Polynesia 98,900 127,984 29.4
American Samoa 158 177 12.0
French Polynesia 2,606 2,682 2.9
Samoa 59,322 67,201 13.3
Tonga 35,131 55,364 57.6
Tuvalu 1,683 2,560 52.1
Pacific 173,366 232,681 34.2

1 Excluding citizens of New Caledonia, Wallis and Futuna, Pitcairn Island, Niue, Cook Islands and Tokelau because they travel on passports issued by France, the UK or New Zealand.
Source: Department of Labour

A critical issue for regional migration systems is how much recent experiences reveal possible trends in the medium and longer terms. Though we anticipate continuous flows in Pacific migration over the next decade or two, developments over the first decade of the 21st century lead us to believe the system is approaching a major watershed. Policy-makers and politicians addressing issues linked with international migration in Australia and New Zealand are aware of some of the changes. But how will they respond to an increasingly urbanised Pacific population in the future—especially when both governments are committed to helping this population become better educated and more skilled for work beyond the village?

[2] The dates for settlement of Polynesia and subsequent migration to other parts of the Pacific and New Zealand have recently become the subject of fierce debate again. This follows a comprehensive reassessment of more than 1,400 radiocarbon dates from at least 15 archipelagoes in eastern Polynesia, including New Zealand (Wilmhurst et al 2010). The authors conclude: 'The results show that, after a relatively brief period of establishment in East Polynesia [around AD 1025-1120], there was a remarkably rapid and extensive dispersal in the 13th century AD to the remaining uninhabited islands [including New Zealand]' (Wilmhurst et al 2010: 5).