This study reports on the English language acquisition of skilled migrants to New Zealand using findings from the Longitudinal Immigration Survey: New Zealand (LisNZ) and the qualitative Five Years On study. Understanding the challenge of gaining English language proficiency is important as language acquisition is known to be a critical factor in a migrant’s ability to ‘integrate’ into a host community and in determining labour market outcomes.
Analysis of LisNZ data showed that skilled migrants from North Asia rated their English ability as lower than other skilled migrants six months after gaining residence in New Zealand. They were also less likely to report improvement over time. This was true irrespective of whether North Asian migrants transitioned to residence from a student permit.
The qualitative study was able to explore the reasons for this trend in more depth and showed exposure to English language prior to departure to New Zealand as being important for English language acquisition on arrival. In addition, the degree to which migrants were immersed in English within their educational, social, and work interactions was important in developing and maintaining English language proficiency. These were areas where North Asian participants seemed to differ consistently from other study participants.
The findings from this research will contribute to discussions about how best to facilitate acquisition of English language among migrants to New Zealand to improve migrants’ ability to participate fully in the New Zealand labour market and in New Zealand society more generally.