Politicians need to be more positive about immigration this election year to steer away from "ignorance and misrepresentations" about migrant communities, the Federation of Multicultural Councils says.
In response to what it sees as increasing negativity around immigration, the council is gathering politicians for a symposium in Dunedin tomorrow - hoping to influence political party policies.
Executive director Tayo Agunlejika said most policies focused on limiting immigration, and there wasn't enough focus on the positive effects migrants brought to the New Zealand economy.
His comments follow a recent policy proposal from Immigration Minister Michael Woodhouse to tighten work visa rules - which has prompted the horticulture and hospitality industries, as well as small dairy worker towns, to protest it would deprive them of workers.
Mr Agunlejika said the council felt compelled to hold the event before the upcoming 2017 general election because of the negativity surrounding recent immigration issues.
He said politicians attending the event needed tell the public what was driving their policies, and "look into their eyes" and answer questions.
One in four New Zealand residents were born overseas, and 87 percent of migrants felt they belonged in New Zealand, but a third of New Zealanders did not think migrants were well integrated, he said.
There was further tension between immigrants and Māori, who were "on edge" due to the perceived competition for jobs, and older New Zealanders who felt "unease" about immigrants, he said.
He acknowledged that when migrants committed crimes or made headlines for the wrong reasons, it did not engender positive attitudes towards migrants in general.
"But these are not representative of everyone. The vast majority of migrants contribute to New Zealand's economy."
National president Alexis LewGor said immigration was being linked to New Zealand's housing issues, economic prosperity, national security and broader social development.
Internationally, immigration was a highly topical issue that was seen as having a large influence on the US presidential election and the UK's decision to leave the European Union, she said.
"What is less appreciated is that it is not so much immigration that leads to these events but more ignorance and misrepresentations about immigrant communities" Ms LewGor said.
Tomorrow's speakers include Dr Bryce Edwards, Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei, Labour immigration spokesperson Ian Lees Galloway, National MP Singh Bakshi and Ngāi Tahu chief executive Arihia Bennett.
Anyone wishing to attend can register via the Multicultural New Zealand website.