Mitchell Pham struck HELEN PERRY as a man who constantly perceives opportunities and makes use of the possibilities they afford. As such, he impressed with his business acumen and his commitment to ensuring New Zealand recognises and welcomes the considerable benefits refugees
Refugees in New Zealand have an avid supporter in Mitchell Pham, a leading businessman, technology entrepreneur and a fierce advocate for capitalising on the talents and strengths of displaced people whom he calls, ‘new Kiwis’.
A former refuge with a huge story to tell, he is keen to see New Zealand extend its refugee quota for many reasons.
“Apart from the humanitarian rationale, refugees afford desirable skills, exceptional drive and (because of the trauma many have endured which has shaped them) great resilience from which we as a country can benefit.”
Whilst understanding the need to balance the cost of resettling refugees with the country’s capacity to accommodate greater numbers of migrants, including refugees, Mitchell believes the value and attributes refugees bring outweigh any difficulties.
“Our population of five million is not a critical mass if we aim to grow the economy and lift the standard of living. Therefore, if we aspire to grow through immigration we could, and should, accept more refugees and employ their input, qualities and desire to succeed.”
Because he believes such assets are grossly undervalued and under-utilised at a time when our current workforce is calling out more talent but failing to attract it, Mitchell works tirelessly to promote better understanding of ‘new Kiwis’ and use of their attributes. What’s more, he is hopeful the country can, and will, do better.
Among the many hats he wears, across a broad spectrum of business and the community, Mitchell is currently serving on an advisory panel to provide input to a group of government agencies which are working to revise and refresh New Zealand’s migrant and refugee strategies.
“I strongly support the approach our government is taking this time around and I’m excited to see what comes through as a strategy for next decade.
“While our refugee quota has increased, we can always do better. For example, the process for refugees to bring out families left behind remains arduous. It is possible to apply for a visa which allows a refugee to bring four family members to New Zealand but it must be done within two years otherwise the visa expires and there is no other opportunity to reapply.”
In his case, Mitchell, like most others, applied immediately, keen to ensure his family quickly escaped the difficult situation he left behind.
“But this proved totally impractical at the time. I was at school, then first year university, studying all the time while working to save money to bring my family here. I just couldn’t do it in the two-year time frame.
“It took a total of 30 years before my siblings and their families were all in New Zealand after individually applying to settle here. It has not been possible for my parents to make the same move.”
Now, in the world’s current, uncertain times, Mitchell would like to see changes to this visa offer.
“We need to recognise that all countries are interconnected and that we could and should do more. If we only focus on trade opportunities, we miss other opportunities.”
For those with reservations about integration difficulties between different cultures and ethnic backgrounds, Mitchell – who often has up to 27 nationalities working together at his Auckland office – is confident such hurdles can be overcome.
“We are already a different and diverse nation with many new Kiwis feeling that they really belong here. Whilst we should never abandon our roots we can also connect and bind with each other, to forge new strengths and pathways.
“When I first arrived in New Zealand, I used to feel different TO everyone else. Now, I feel different LIKE everyone else.”
Based on his own experiences, Mitchell says he is entirely optimistic that if New Zealand fosters new international relationships through a variety of means, the people and the country will grow and prosper.
“Who would have believed that arriving here as a teenager with nothing to start with, I would be in the position to contribute and make the positive impact I can today.
“I am absolutely not special or unique. I am just one of many examples of what refugees who have overcome hardship and trauma can achieve and make an impact on this country.”