Migrant tap back on

New Zealand appears to be flinging open the immigration doors again.

The tap has been turned on with more than 11,000 people coming to this country in February alone.

Over the past year more than 50,000 people came to New Zealand to make it home, taking immigration figures back to about the same levels as the few years pre-Covid.

Westpac senior economist Michael Gordon says new figures understate the recent strength of immigration; taking the past four months, the country is running at an annual-equivalent pace of about 100,000 people.

He says, however, the migration figures – particularly the most recent few months – need to be taken with a grain of salt, as they can be subject to large revisions as more information about people’s movements becomes available.

“That said, the direction of recent revisions has been upward, not down. And we can cross-check them to some degree by looking at people’s stated intentions on their arrival cards. The number of people saying that they intend to stay here for more than a year has surged to new highs in recent months.”

The surge in net migration has been led by foreign arrivals, which have risen well beyond previous levels. The apparent surge in 2019 was actually due to ‘accidental’ migrants – people who ended up stuck in the country for more than a year after the border was closed in March 2020.

The most recent surge most likely reflects the demand to live and work in New Zealand that accumulated over the lockdown period, and is now being unleashed, says Gordon. 

Meanwhile, the balance of New Zealanders’ movements remains a net outflow, although less than last year. An initial wave of departures, reflecting pent-up demand for young Kiwis to travel, has now returned to more normal levels.

Gordon says he expects that pent-up demand will keep net migration elevated in the coming months, before settling down to more modest net inflows in the following years.

Since migration is largely driven by people moving for opportunity, the expected cooling in the New Zealand economy in the year ahead will also play a role in moderating those inflows.

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