Story: Koreans

Before 1990 there were barely 1,000 Koreans in New Zealand. Then the numbers soared, reaching almost 20,000 a decade later. Leaving their crowded cities for a less frantic urban life has proved very popular among South Koreans. They have flocked to Auckland, where they have built up business and cultural networks.

Full story by Hong-key Yoon and Inshil Choe Yoon
Main image: Julia and Glen Jo

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Immigration history

Koreans are comparatively recent immigrants to New Zealand. Some arrived before the 1980s, among them teachers of martial arts, which became popular with New Zealanders. But most have come since 1990: within 10 years the population swelled from around 1,000 to over 19,000. There were two big waves – in the early to mid-1990s, and in the early 2000s. Almost all of these immigrants were from South Korea.

Reasons for coming to New Zealand

The surge in arrivals was largely due to a change in New Zealand’s immigration policy in 1991. Immigrants applying to enter New Zealand were assessed on a points system, which did not discriminate by country of origin. Because points were given to professional and business people, many Koreans were able to come.

South Korea is a crowded country where most people live in apartments. Many sought a quieter lifestyle, and welcomed New Zealand’s open spaces and golf courses. The less competitive education system also appealed to many families.

The community

Being used to city life, Koreans mainly chose to settle in Auckland, especially on the North Shore. Finding jobs has been one of their biggest challenges. Many opened their own small businesses such as groceries and travel agencies, which often served their community. Many immigrants were Christians and they formed their own church communities.

By the mid-1990s Korean newspapers were being published in Auckland. And migrants could also eat at Korean restaurants, which served traditional food such as kimchi – a vegetable dish highly seasoned with pepper and garlic. In 2003 there were about 15,000 young Koreans studying in New Zealand as international students.

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How to cite this page:

Hong-key Yoon and Inshil Choe Yoon. 'Koreans', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, updated 9-Nov-12