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17 Jun 2019

Migration Up but Approval Down

Migration numbers are up across New Zealand, with a recent surge of arrivals leading to a strong net gain for the year ending April. Most long-term arrivals were Australian and New Zealand citizens, with people arriving on work, student, and visitor visas also up over the year. While more people arrived and departed New Zealand than they did in 2018, the number of people leaving the country was more muted. New Zealand is one of the most diverse nations in the world, with debate still taking place over what is sustainable for such a small and geographically isolated nation.

According to Statistics New Zealand, there was a net population gain of 55,834 people from migration in the 12 months ending April this year. While this number was lower than the recent peak of 62,508 recorded in 2016 and 60,094 recorded in 2017, it was also much higher than the 50,163 recorded in April 2018. There were 150,974 long-term arrivals entering New Zealand in the year ending April, and 95,141 people departing in the same time period. These figures were up 6.8 per cent and 4.3 per cent respectively.

The biggest group of arrivals, at almost one-third of the total number, were Australian and New Zealand citizens, up 3.2 per cent from 2018. Other than Australia, China was the biggest source nation at 15,650 and 10.9 per cent, followed by India at 11.539 and -11.3 per cent, and the UK at 9,267 and -23.4 per cent. People arriving on work visas went up 7 per cent to 32,438, with visitor visa numbers up 18.9 per cent to 27,001, and student visas up 7.6 per cent to 13,929. Residency visas were down 7.1 per cent on the previous 12 months.  

The official target for residency approvals was set at 45,000 just under two years ago, yet figures from Immigration New Zealand show much lower numbers. This figure is lower than the migration numbers from Statistics New Zealand because it doesn't account for returning local residents. Residency approvals have declined by about 30 per cent since 2016, with certain nationalities and visas seeing even sharper drops. For example, residency approvals for Chinese, Indian, and Filipino applicants are all down by about 40 per cent from their peak in late 2015.

According to economist Michael Reddell, New Zealand has accepted more immigrants per capita over the past 25 years than any other country in the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). While strong migration has benefited many New Zealanders by helping to rise property prices and stimulate the economy, according to Reddell, it “has reduced per capita incomes and productivity” for the bottom 40 per cent of New Zealand households.

Since 2016, a number of regulatory tweaks have been passed by the government in an effort to reduce migration or at least steer it more clearly, including a tightening of the points-based immigration system, the “temporary” closure of some visa categories, and new minimum income thresholds. Property ownership rules have also been changed, and Immigration New Zealand has closed, or is in the process of closing, 12 of its 17 offshore processing centres. Despite these long-term changes, rising net migration numbers will continue to ignite debate regarding the ideal level of migration.


Image source: Ravital /Shutterstock