A desperate Auckland jobseeker is leaving New Zealand after coming up against racial bias in his job hunt, including the suggestion he needed to change his name to an English-sounding one just to land an interview.
Anti-discrimination organisations are warning this type of racial prejudice is wasting some of New Zealand's top talent.
Yik Kun Heng applied for 175 jobs after graduating from the University of Auckland with a first-class masters in political science.
He received just three interview requests, while his classmates with English-sounding names secured jobs.
The frustrated graduate sought advice from a career adviser and colleague, and they told him to change his name to an Anglo-Saxon one.
''It's almost like you have to give up your identity, everything you are as a person your history just to secure a job and pay cheque. That's too much of an ask for anyone.''
Heng is part of a wave of New Zealand-Asians hitting the workforce this decade.
His Malaysian parents moved here during the boom migration period of the 1990s.
Heng is a panelist on an upcoming debate in Auckland questioning whether workers of Asian descent are being locked out of jobs and promotions.
Young Chinese organisation Future Dragonz set up the Slanted discussion White or Wong to tackle employee discrimination and cultural stereotyping.
Although Heng was eventually hired at a telecommunications company after a seven-month job hunt, he has decided to leave for Hong Kong.
''No one should have to fight that hard to get a pay cheque, and that's just to get a job. To get a career, what am I going to have to do?''
Heng said he looked forward to being judged on his skills, rather than his name and ethnicity.
Research shows Asian migrants are far more likely to have negative employment experiences compared to South Africans and British migrants.
Massey University sociology professor Paul Spoonley said while attitudes towards immigrants from Asia have steadily improved, there are some major issues.
''One is in the labour market. Employers have not caught up with the fact Asians immigrants and New Zealand-born are a huge part of our labour supply.''
Employers tend to discount foreign qualifications and experience of Asian migrants, or simply think the candidate will not fit the workplace culture.
''They see these immigrants as high risk and don't want to take that risk,'' he said. ''They see a surname and they make a judgement.''
Ethnic minorities also faced discrimination once in the workplace.
The Human Rights Commission receives, on average, 472 complaints about racial discrimination, incitement and harassment each year.
Race complaints regarding employment are the most frequent and Asians are the most common target.
Race Relations Commissioner Joris de Bres said if you marginalise a community you are only hurting yourself.
''If people are employed below their level of qualifications then that is a loss to the economy. If they're not employed at all, that is a loss to the economy.'' And the workforce in New Zealand will only get more diverse.
Almost one in four people living here was born overseas. About 60 per cent of Auckland residents are immigrants or second-generation children.
Yet despite the growing diversity of our country, racist views of immigrants and their Kiwi-born children persist.
Strangers have abused and shouted ''go home'' at Fabian Low.
His home is Auckland. He is from Christchurch. He was born in Singapore.
He is one of the growing number of New Zealanders referred to as the 1.5 generation, with their identity wedged between Aotearoa and Asia.
Many of the 1.5 generation came to New Zealand during the wave of migration from Asia during the 1990s.
Low arrived at a Christchurch boarding school 18 years ago, aged 14. His parents followed a year later.
Racial slurs aside, Low says it is difficult to gauge how deep racial bias and prejudice runs in this nation.
''A minority of people openly expressed their [racist] views at me in Christchurch, but what I don't know is what is going on deep in people's minds.
''In Auckland it's more subtle. That's not to say it doesn't exist.''
Gently spoken and with a self-deprecating sense of humour, Low confesses to trying to fit in with other New Zealand men the only way he knew how - by drinking.
''I would drink regularly to keep up with my friends. It really wasn't good. I don't regret it because I'm responsible for myself, but I did it for all the wrong reasons.''
Rather than forcing assimilation on our newest New Zealanders, there should be a greater emphasis on integration whereby two cultures come together, he said.
ISSUES OF DISCRIMINATION: The first of the Slanted debate series is on March 28 at 6pm. Entry $10.futuredragonz.org.nz/events.html.
Last updated 07:48 25/03/2012
Stuart #8 via mobile 02:50 pm Mar 25 2012
That sounds both sexist and racist to be honest.
Brett #7 12:29 pm Mar 25 2012
I'm thinking this isn't as much about racism, as it is more to do with the fact that he has a Social Science/Arts degree - gimme a break, those degrees are useless. I started my original degree doing organisational psychology - what a waste of time! You won't get a job that way! Do computer science or something that has a real skill based background
Johnny #6 11:51 am Mar 25 2012
As an arts graduate myself, I had a lot of trouble securing a position when I graduated some years back. This is probably the issue here, rather than racism.
Lou #5 11:26 am Mar 25 2012
You only have to look at the jail statistic to see who we should encourage to stay and breed in this country. 55% of the jail population come from one ethnic minority, 2% from the Asian community. The answer is obvious but sadly there are to many with a vested interest in the perpetuation of crime for it to every be allowed to be debated in the mainstream media.
Paul343 #4 10:58 am Mar 25 2012
I'm not so sure, I would suggest the 'problem' might be that he has a Political Science degree. I have one of those as well, and didn't get a job until I got a more commercially focused degree. The fact is, universities are churning out grads with useless degrees. I'm sure if Mr. Wong had a hons degree in Engineering or even Accounting, he wouldn't be having any problems with 'racists'.
Kate #3 10:57 am Mar 25 2012
I feel for many foreigners coming to New Zealand to start a brighter future (sic), because this is not always the case. I also have a foreign surname, from Dutch decent. My profession in the medical field is sort after, but after 150+ job applications, I am off to Australia to seek a brighter future. I am sick and tired of hearing that I do have an accent, speak fast, what are your qualifications? etc. Many people making these comments do not even have any qualifications to their name. Paying thousands of dollars to get residence permits, work permits and even my Kiwi citizenship has brought me nothing but misery. I have wasted more than 10 years of my working life on people that are ungrateful xenophobic individuals. The people that treated me with respect was the indigenous Maori, but what a shame I did not get the same from the more "educated" so-called Europeans. New Zealand people are shooting them in the foot, New Zealand will never progress in many sectors due to their racist outlook. I am looking forward to offer my services somewhere else where I will be treated like a human being and be able to retain my dignity.
ygb #2 10:41 am Mar 25 2012
Are the perpetrators of the racist attitude towards Asians jealous of their ability towards work and success without moaning to the government that they can't cope, and require an apology and handouts for the way they were treated in the early 20th century? I tend to think that Asian are very bright and hard working, probably much to the anguish of some sectors of our society. NZ's loss.
Underprivileged Asian #1 10:23 am Mar 25 2012
I totally agree with this opinion but a majority of the people here ARE NOT like these rotten apples. I had to leave a good paying job as my GM made a comment that "he prefers women" in the presence of the HR Manager and also being called "@#$%ing Indian @#$t" by one of his cronies. The Community Law Centre addressed my concerns. They were very helpful but this same HR Manager, at the mediation, refused to accept that the GM had made that comment. This was mid Dec2011. I'm still without a job and it's the lowest point in my life, ever!!