Immigration statistics – what are they telling us?12 Jul 2023

Over recent months there has been much hype over the resurgence in immigration, with a net annual migration gain of 100,000 people being widely predicted. Such a number would likely be helpful to combat New Zealand’s skill shortages, but it would also contribute to increased demand and, potentially, inflation.

Of course, it is only a “resurgence” due to the fact our borders have been closed for most of the past 3 years and what we have been seeing is a consequence of this pent-up demand, coupled with the recent introduction of more “facilitative” visa policies.

So what can we deduce from the immigration statistics for 2023 to date?

New Zealand migration statistics are taken from the information recorded on the migrant arrival and departure cards and, specifically, whether a person is intending to stay, or leave, New Zealand for 12 months or more. These people are deemed to be long-term arrivals or leavers, and are not to be confused with tourists, who stay for shorter periods and who make up the greatest number of arrivals.

In January 2023 there were 16,000 migrant arrivals, and 10,800 departures for a monthly net gain of 5,200 people. In February there were 21,400 arrivals, and 9,700 departures for a net monthly gain of 11,700 people. In March there were (coincidentally) also 21,400 arrivals, and 9,300 departures for a monthly gain of 12,100 people, and in April there were 16,500 arrivals, and 10,700 departures for a monthly gain of 5,800 people.

In the year to April 2023 there were a total of 171,800 arrivals, and departures of 99,500 for an annual gain of 72,300 people (NB: in the 2 years prior to April 2022 there was a net loss of 32,000 non-NZ citizens). The main source countries continue to be India and China, followed by the Philippines, UK, Fiji and South Africa. There were 220,000 tourists who also arrived in the month of April, down from the 260,000 tourists who arrived in March.

So while the February and March net migration gains may have “excited” many, it is possible the significant fallback in April may signal the beginning of the end of our migration “resurgence”. This would not be a surprise due to the increasingly competitive international market for migrants, the local economic uncertainty, and New Zealand’s general fall from favour across a range of international measures (wages, education, crime, interest rates, etc.).

Some 26,000 New Zealand citizens were included in the departure statistic in the year to April – and this figure has increased every month this year from 16,400 in the year to January. This figure will continue to increase with growing numbers of New Zealand citizens now relocating to Australia following that Government’s recent policy change to fast-track New Zealand citizens to Australian citizenship. Historically there has been a net migration loss from New Zealand to Australia which averaged 30,000 a year from 2004 to 2013, and which reduced to around 3,000 a year from 2014 to 2019. Our prediction is that the previous average high of 30,000 a year will be exceeded within the next few months and will continue to grow momentum into the foreseeable future. It is not beyond the realms of possibilities that 100,000 people will relocate from New Zealand to Australia in the next 2 years.

It is a dangerous game to just rely on raw statistics. The numbers v quality debate is the real battleground, and is where New Zealand is facing a growing conundrum. It wants quality migrants, but quality migrants, and many of its own citizens, may no longer want New Zealand. Where will the line be drawn?

Link: First published in Waikato Business News May/June 2023 Volume 31 Issue 5 Page 13