New Zealand's net annual migration gain back to pre-pandemic levels

2:00 pm on 14 June 2023
The first fights from across the Tasman landed in New Zealand after the border reopened on 13 April 2022.

The latest migration data shows New Zealand gained a little over 72,000 people in the year to April. Photo: RNZ / Marika Khabazi

Addressing the pressure net migration puts on New Zealand's infrastructure is an "ongoing issue" which has not yet been resolved, a sociologist says.

The latest migration data shows New Zealand gained a little over 72,000 people in the year to April.

Massey University sociologist Paul Spoonley told Morning Report those figures showed the country's net annual migration gain was back to where it was just prior to the Covid-19 pandemic in December 2019 - the month the country saw the highest net gain it had ever had.

"We're right back up there."

That number appeared to have been driven by a spike in people arriving in March, he said, with monthly provisional figures for April indicating the pace of migration might be slowing.

"Also, Immigration New Zealand have been very busy processing 220,000 people who were already on-shore and who the government had given the opportunity to transfer from a temporary visa to a permanent visa."

Professor Spoonley said there had been a rapid move from concern about the country's ability to attract talent in a very competitive global environment earlier this year, to the numbers now being seen arriving.

The data showed New Zealand was attracting workers at a greater rate than Australia, he said. But it also showed the "net loss of New Zealanders" was tracking up.

"Between the last figures and these figures, so month-by-month, we have seen a significant increase in the net loss of New Zealanders."

He said those migrating to the country were primarily coming from India, the Philippines and China, with the construction, hospitality, transport and agriculture sectors seeing the largest numbers of incoming workers.

However, other sectors the government had identified as needing to attract additional workers from overseas, such as education and healthcare, had not seen as many arrivals, he said.

Spoonley said "Treasury and others" had indicated the country would see a net gain of between 60,000 and 66,000 people this year, but he believed those estimates were "a bit low".

"I think we're probably going to balance out around somewhere between 70 and 80 thousand, but who knows? These figures do fluctuate a lot."

He said the issue of whether such high net migration numbers were sustainable, given the pressures they placed on the country's housing supply and other infrastructure, would be a "major concern".

"Last year the Productivity Commission, in looking at migration, said that it wasn't in balance, that there were issues between the population growth of the country, which is largely driven by migration ... and we were in deficit in terms of providing infrastructure and services.

"So we've gone back to that situation, without actually having resolved it."

Skilled workers arriving, but pressure remains in some sectors - immigration minister

But Minister of Immigration Michael Wood told Morning Report part of the solution to the country's "decades-long shortfall" in building the infrastructure it needed was skilled migrant labour.

"When we put the immigration rebalance in place post the border closures, one of the things we were wanting to achieve was to shift the old model, which was frankly based on very high volume, often of people on very low wages, to a system that is more focussed on the skills that we really need."

However, he said the government also wanted to ensure it understood the impact of the decisions it was making in immigration.

"One of the things that I've signalled ... is the government's interest in developing a government policy statement on immigration, which would more closely bring together our decision-making in immigration with a consideration of the impacts on infrastructure."

The migration numbers showed skilled workers were coming into New Zealand but acknowledged there was still pressure in some sectors, he said.

"That's why, as we have been moving along, we have been making adjustments to the system.

"In health, for example, we have pretty much put all clinical roles and nearly all allied health roles on the straight to residency pathway, to make our offer as attractive as possible."

Wood said he believed the balance in the immigration system was "about right" but said it would continue to be reviewed to ensure it was working for everyone - including employers and workers.

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