Government policy changes in New Zealand and China are creating pressures for only-child migrants from China who face difficult decisions juggling new lives with cultural expectations to care for ageing parents.
A policy change constraining Chinese migrant families sponsoring elderly parents to immigrate to New Zealand is akin to ‘rewriting traditional Chinese cultural practice and the family norm of unification.’
As well as New Zealand’s tightened policy, Chinese families are anxious about China’s revised legislation requiring children to visit parents more regularly or risk being sued.
About half of New Zealand’s 171,411 Chinese residents were born in China, according to the 2013 Census, with many migrants and their parents making up a significant proportion of the country’s Chinese-born population.
New Zealand’s 2016 policy change has temporarily closed the Parent Category to receive any more applications. Whether this category will be open again for applications is uncertain.
While some adult migrants bring their elderly parents here for retirement, others come to support their adult children’s career development by providing care for their grandchildren.
In return, adult migrant children assume responsibility for supporting their parents when they are unable to live on their own.
Many Chinese adult migrants are a part of a new trend of becoming global citizens. They may have multiple residencies, business connections and children who opt to live and study in other countries.
But the care of elderly parents is becoming problematic.
Before the new restrictions, New Zealand’s policy had supported family unification, as it recognised the value of skilled migrants to the New Zealand economy as well as the benefits of extended families and multiple generations being together.
The increasing costs of elder care to the New Zealand taxpayer are part of the rationale for the new restrictions.
This policy change is particularly challenging for many Chinese migrant families because of a strong tradition of filial piety in Chinese culture, which requires the adult children to provide daily care for their elderly parents.
The high proportion of Chinese parents admitted over the last three decades reflects this cultural factor.
A lack of welfare and the cultural stigma about placing elderly people in rest homes in China adds to the complexity of the issue.
As a Chinese migrant facing difficulties in arranging care for my ageing parents in China, I have a personal as well as academic interest in the issue.
After working in New Zealand for many years, I discovered that the new immigration policy blocked my parents from moving here.
The feeling is like a betrayal.
I am a New Zealand citizen like many other locals, but the new policy creates two classes of citizens – one class is those who can enjoy a family life, while the other is not able to. As the only child in my family, taking care of my parents is a serious issue.
Unlike Chinese migrants of early last century who were motivated by economic factors, most migrants from China today seek a better lifestyle, advanced education system, and the securing of foreign passports.
Attractive New Zealand
Many of the 50 new Chinese migrants I have interviewed say that they are attracted to this country because they perceive it as “safe, liberal, and easy-going. Politically, it is democratic and the stable government is perceived as better than China’s. In practice, the entry criteria and living costs are lower than other ‘white settler’ countries. The great natural environment, advanced education system, and the welfare system are also attractive.”
My research will provide fresh understandings of how migrants extended and multi-generational families from China adapt to New Zealand.
I use a novel three-generation framework encompassing migrants, their children and parents to investigate how migratory mobility and intergenerational dynamics affect individual family members and shape migrants’ family life and sense of identity and belonging.
Dr Liangni Sally Liu is a Lecturer in Chinese programme in the School of Humanities, Massey University. In her three-year Marsden-funded study, titled ‘Floating families? New Chinese migrants in New Zealand and their multi-generational families,’ she takes the policy changes described in the above article as a starting point for exploring the changing dynamics of New Zealand’s growing number of Chinese migrant families.