Family life returns for migrant couple

A couple working in Christchurch are regaining their family life by bringing their children from the Philippines after months apart.

“My plan was to come here to live. I have friends who have been here and they told me lots of good things about New Zealand,”

Rene Quinones

Rene Quinones is a painter with Buildtech’s Christchurch rebuild team and his wife, Christina is a security guard. Their three children Nathaniel, 9, Natalie, 7 and Nicola, 3, have been staying with Christina’s family in the Philippines.

The idea of moving to New Zealand came when Rene’s brother-in-law was applying for a rebuild job. Rene contacted an agency in the Philippines and also applied for a job. After he was interviewed and offered work by Buildtech, it took him two months to assemble the required documents and get a visa.

Rene expected to be working with Kiwis but found himself among a wide variety of cultures involved in the rebuild.

The couple did a lot of research on New Zealand. “My plan was to come here to live. I have friends who have been here and they told me lots of good things about New Zealand” Rene says. They used the Immigration New Zealand website to build up their knowledge.

Rene arrived in Christchurch a little over a year ago on a work visa. He kept a watch on the website and the list of skills shortages in Canterbury. When painters were added to the list he submitted his Expression of Interest (EOI) which led to a residence visa. His background, which includes a degree and 12 years of teaching at a military institution, may have helped him, he says.

Christina came to New Zealand six months after Rene and now works as a security guard. All her workmates are Kiwis and she loves the job. Rene expected to be working with Kiwis but found himself among a wide variety of cultures involved in the rebuild. “They speak English but the accents made it a bit of a struggle to understand them at first."

“One of the main adjustments I had to make was to get used to the weather. In our country it’s tropical – warm most of the time. I arrived here towards the end of September and the cold was a struggle for me.”

Rene Quinones

Some of his work was outside and when Rene heard about cheap stores selling good second-hand clothes, as soon as he got his first pay he bought more work clothes.

The job was different from what he expected, too. Painting methods were different from those in the Philippines and he had to learn the names of different paints and what each was for. Even the rooms in houses had different names from what he was used to.

He has also picked up plastering and wallpapering experience and has been promoted to a supervisor’s role. Communication is the key, he says. He is not totally fluent in English yet but he can read write and speak it well. It also helps that he can drive a manual vehicle, which means he can drive team members to a work site and pick up materials when they are needed.


Food is easy to get but expensive. “In the Philippines you can buy cabbage for 20 cents a kilogram or less. Here you might pay $3 to $4 a kilo. You really have to be careful what food you buy.”

The Philippine diet of rice at every meal sometimes makes his workmates laugh, Rene says. However, that is what a Filipino eats. Sometimes it is fish or meat with rice or just a mixture of vegetables with rice.

There is no problem getting spices and other ingredients in Christchurch. “There are a lot of Asian supermarkets and they have imported goods from the Philippines. We can find things here that we eat at home but there is a big difference in the price.”

Rene and Christina’s research included Kiwi culture and lifestyle. “We saw that Kiwis are family-orientated. They are likely to work from Monday to Friday and spend the weekend with the family. With our children here, our plan is to have a Kiwi lifestyle. We want to go camping and I know some fishing spots where we might take the children.”

At the time of this interview after 18 months working, Rene and Cristina had just managed to save enough to bring their three children to join them in New Zealand. Cristina’s careful planning included making sure there was enough for school uniforms and transport. Finally the family has been able to begin their new life together in the new city of Christchurch, New Zealand.

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