Asian communities in New Zealand


Asian is a term used in Aotearoa, New Zealand, referring to people who come from Asia, including people coming from West Asia eg Afghanistan, and Nepal, to South Asia, covering the Indian sub-continent, East Asia covering China, North and South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Japan and South East Asia, consisting of countries like Singapore, Malaysia, Philippines, Vietnam, Thailand, Myanmar, Laos, and Kampuchea (Statistics NZ, 2018).

The term ‘Asian’ includes a broad range of people from different cultures, languages, education, religion and migration backgrounds and includes recent immigrants, well-established migrants, second, third, fourth and fifth-generation Asians born in New Zealand, foreign fee-paying students in fixed term visas, refugees and asylum seekers. In the last 10 years, Asian refugees come from Afghanistan, Bhutan, Cambodia, China, Malaysia, Myanmar (Burma), Nepal, Pakistan, Philippines, Sri Lanka, and Vietnam. (The Refugee and Protection Statistics Pack).

Please note that the definition of ‘Asian’ used in New Zealand differs from that used in other countries. For example, the United Kingdom uses ‘Asian’ to refer to people of South Asian background, with people identifying as Chinese separately considered.

The terms 'immigrant and refugee' are defined as follows: 

  • An immigrant (is commonly referred to as “migrant” on this website) is a person born overseas who entered New Zealand under an immigration programme. Immigration programmes comprise Skilled/Business, Family Sponsored and International/Humanitarian streams. Asian migration usually refers to the movement of Asian peoples to New Zealand from other countries rather than internal migration within New Zealand.

  • A refugee is defined as “any person who, owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his/her nationality and is unable, or owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself/herself of the protection of that country” (United Nations Convention 1951, and the 1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees). In 1967 the protocol relating to the status of refugees extended this definition to include displaced people who are seeking temporary refuge to escape political and social disruptions.

Map of Asia showing the countries of Asia


New Zealand people who identify as Asian ethnicity makes up fifteen (15) percent of the population (707,598) as reported in the 2018 census. Some geographical areas may have higher percentage of the population who identify as Asian ethnicity. For example, sixty-two percent (62.6%) of Asians in New Zealand resides in Auckland (approximately 442,956), which makes up 28.1% of the Auckland population.

Twenty-three percent (23%) of the Asian ethnic group was identified as New Zealand-born. This means immigrants make up a large proportion of the Asian population, approximately seventy-seven percent (77%).

Here is a map showing the distribution of Asian population across Aotearoa New Zealand (Census 2018).

Asian ethnic groupings

The most commonly identified Asian ethnic groups in New Zealand are: Chinese, Indian, Filipino, Korean, Japanese, Fijian Indian, Sri Lankan, Cambodian, Thai, Vietnamese, Taiwanese and Malaysian.

The level one classification of ethnicity termed as ‘Asian’ consists of Chinese, Indian, South East Asian and ‘Other Asians’. Below shows the Level One and Level Two sub-groupings defined by Statistics New Zealand.

Level One and Level Two Asian Categories defined by Statistics New Zealand (SNZ)

Chinese (Code 42)

  • Chinese (not further defined)
  • Hong Kong Chinese
  • Cambodian Chinese
  • Malaysian Chinese
  • Singaporean Chinese
  • Vietnamese Chinese
  • Taiwanese
  • Chinese (not elsewhere classified)

Indian (Code 43)

  • Indian (not further defined)
  • Bengali
  • Fijian Indian
  • Gujarati
  • Tamil
  • Punjabi
  • Sikh
  • Anglo Indian
  • Indian (not elsewhere classified)

South-East asian (Code 41)

  • South-East Asian (not further defined)
  • Filipino
  • Cambodian
  • Vietnamese
  • Burmese
  • Indonesian
  • Laotian
  • Malay
  • Thai
  • South-East Asian (not elsewhere classified)
  • Other South East Asian

Other Asian (Code 44)

  • Japanese
  • Korean
  • Afghan
  • Sri Lankan (not further defined)
  • Sri Lankan Tamil
  • Sri Lankan (not elsewhere classified)
  • Sinhalese
  • Bangladeshi
  • Nepalese
  • Pakistani
  • Tibetan
  • Eurasian
  • Asian (not elsewhere classified)

Asian (not further defined) (Code 40)

  • Asian (not further defined)

Language diversity of Asian ethnic groupings in New Zealand

Census 2018 accounted for 170+ spoken languages in New Zealand. See most common languages spoken in New Zealand other than English here.