Migration statistics – what are they and what do they mean?12 Jan 2024

There is much hype every month about New Zealand’s net migration numbers and what these mean for the country.

In the year to October 2023 New Zealand recorded a net migration gain of 128,900 people. This figure is calculated from migrant arrivals of 245,600, less migrant departures of 116,700. For the purposes of these calculations a “migrant” is a person who states on their arrival or departure card that they intend to stay in, or leave, New Zealand for 12 months or more. This figure should not be confused with normal tourism for which there were 226,000 arrivals in the October month alone.

Within the year to October some 71,000 New Zealand citizens left long term, while 26,500 returned from an extended absence, meaning a net loss of 44,500 New Zealand citizens for the year (and a new record!).

The non-NZ citizen migrant arrivals comprised 87,000 work visa holders, 60,000 on visitor visas, 32,000 on student visas, and 30,000 on resident visas. These statistics can be further broken down – the work visa total also includes working holiday visa holders (which could make up one third or more of the total) and also the partners of work and student visa holders. It is difficult to reconcile the visitor visa number as visitor visas are normally only issued for 3 or 6 month stays, and the only explanation for this high number is these visas are for family members of work or student visa holders. The student visa total is mainly international students but will also include children of work and student visa holders. Most of the resident visa holders will be migrants who already live in New Zealand and are returning from overseas holidays so their “impact” should be largely ignored. The main source countries of these arrivals were India (48,000), Philippines (35,000), China (27,000), Fiji (10,000), South Africa (9,000), Australia (7,000) and the UK, USA and Sri Lanka (all at around 6,000).

The new Government has raised concerns at the current high level of net migration and indicated it would like to see migration more directly linked to the filling of skills shortages. The fact that 60% of AEWV approvals are for the lowest skilled roles may also be a concern.

We are seeing the face of many workplaces change forever due to the recent surge in international migration - take for example the health and aged care sectors, and even within the corrections workforce. However, this surge is not unique to New Zealand with Australia having experienced a net annual migration gain of 500,000 people.

The challenge, we believe, is for the Government to attract and retain the migrants that the country most desires for the medium to long term, and to be forward thinking and transparent in such policy planning. Implementing policies “on-the-fly” in reaction to existing demands should only be considered sparingly and not as the norm, which has been increasingly the case over recent years.

It is important that migrants are not “encouraged” to come to New Zealand with unrealistic and unachievable expectations as this can only lead to disappointment, and even more migrants being open to exploitation. The current high levels of net migration will, unfortunately, only lead to such outcomes for many of the migrants who have arrived in the last year. Migration is not a topic within the Government’s 100-day plan – but it should be, based on the current migration statistics!

Link: First Published in the Waikato Business News January 2024 Edition, Page 10