For almost half a century there has been significant migration from the Pacific islands, but primarily from Polynesia, to New Zealand. The largest urban concentration of Pacific Islanders living outside their own countries is in Auckland, sometimes referred to as the ‘Polynesian capital of the world’. By 1991 there were 167,000 Pacific Islanders – those specifying an island ethnic identity – in New Zealand, of whom half were born there. In 2006, 265,974 people identified with the Pacific peoples ethnic group, representing 6.9 per cent of the total New Zealand population. Over 9 in 10 Pacific peoples (93.4 %) living in New Zealand in 2006 lived in the North Island. Two-thirds (66.9 %) of Pacific peoples lived in the Auckland Region.

The largest group in 2006 were Samoans (131,103), followed by Cook Island Maori (58,008), Tongans (50,481), Niueans (22,476) and Fijians (9,864). Indo-Fijian migrants to New Zealand are not identified as Pacific islanders (2006 Census).

Historical context

Since the early 1960s Polynesian migrants have come to New Zealand, mainly in search of superior employment and income-generating opportunities. The stagnation of the New Zealand economy and economic restructuring in the 1980s tended to disadvantage Pacific Islanders, some of whom migrated onwards to Australia and the USA, but migration continued, especially from states with past or present political ties to New Zealand, notably Samoa, the Cook Islands, Tokelau and Niue. Formal recognition of the political significance of Pacific Islanders came in 1985 when the Labour government formed a Ministry of Pacific Island Affairs, which has an advisory council consisting of members of the six main island groups.

Current issues

Pacific Islanders experience high rates of unemployment and are mainly employed in manufacturing industries, but Islanders born in New Zealand are more likely to be employed and work in professional, managerial and technical jobs. However, these trends are common to all New Zealanders hence there remain disparities between Pacific Islanders and others. Pacific Islander households tend to be larger and to have lower incomes than others. There are significant concentrations of Pacific Islanders in overcrowded, impoverished inner city areas, especially in south Auckland, where their residential distribution is similar to that of Maori. Whereas affirmative action programmes have been developed these have tended to favour Maori, and Islanders have not made comparable recent gains. 

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