The number of Indian students heading to New Zealand has been steadily increasing over the past five years. This year the government is making efforts to see a marked rise in enrolments, marketing itself as a safe alternative to neighbouring Australia where many Indian students have faced racist attacks.
Although Australia has nearly 90,000 Indian students and New Zealand only about 6,000, it is a huge rise from the 500 in this country five years ago.
"India has become an important source for students in recent years. The New Zealand government very much welcomes this growing Indian student body," says New Zealand High Commissioner to India Rupert Holborow.
New Zealand invests about NZ$3 billion annually in the tertiary (universities and polytechnics) education system where most of the Indian students are enrolled. And following a spate of attacks on Indians in Australia, the New Zealand government has asked its trade and enterprise office in India to market the country as a nation with a culture different from its neighbour.
"What we want to do is to remind education agents in India that New Zealand is a different country from Australia - in the nicest possible way," Robert Stevens, chief executive of Education New Zealand, was quoted as saying by the New Zealand Herald in June.
Many Indians living in New Zealand agree.
"I came here in February 2008 and I haven't faced any racial discrimination," says Joseph Lenus, an Indian pursuing a Diploma in Business at the Waikato Insitute of Technology (Wintec) in Hamilton.
Pharbhu Parsotam, an Indian origin resident of Hamilton, represented the New Zealand hockey team in the past and has coached various club teams. He believes that the country is very accommodating of people from other nationalities.
"I have never faced racism in all my playing days and after. In fact, I had been subjected to howling occasionally on roads but nothing in the sporting area or ground," says Parsotam.
Nagaraj from Chennai, who has been studying physiotherapy at the Waikato University from July 2008, says he likes New Zealand's educational system because unlike in India it is student-oriented.
"Here we have a more relaxed way of learning and the tutors are casual in their approach. So adapting to studies and life is easier," says Nagaraj.
There are also a lot of job opportunities in New Zealand despite the global recession.
Gurminder Singh, who hails from Punjab's Jalandhar district, is pursuing a Diploma in Business Administration at Wintec and also doing part-time work.
"I work for 20 hours per week and earn nearly $200. With this money I could cover my living expenses as well as save and send for my family back home in India," says Singh.
Students enter New Zealand through a one-year student visa, which gets converted to a graduate open work visa for one year and allows them to opt for any job.
After one year, they can opt for a two-year work visa. Meanwhile, they can apply for permanent residency and get one if they get maximum points in the skilled migrant category.
Daphne Bell, a community organiser in Hamilton who teaches immigrants English for free and has authored "New to NZ: A Guide to Ethnic groups in New Zealand", says that Indian migrants provide a symbol of multi-culturalism that is essential for New Zealand.
"Indians work harder than the natives and New Zealand should make all efforts to tap the potential of the migrants," she says.
New Zealand is a multi-ethnic country and is predominately populated by the white population known as Paheka. The indigenous Maori community constitutes 16 percent of the population.
Historian and Auckland Institute of Technology professor Paul Moon says that though the Maori population was initially cold to Asians, there is now a better understanding among them for political rights.
"This is reflected in the election of Kanwaljit Singh Bakshi of the ruling National Party as a member of parliament," says Moon.
Suman Kapoor, New Zealand secretary of the Global Organization for People of Indian Origin (GOPIO), says Indians are safe in New Zealand because of the political clout that they enjoy.
"Indian origin people enjoy enormous political influence because political parties look up to them for funding during the elections," says Kapoor.