Migration shows New Zealand’s popularity
Fri 7 Mar 2014 by Gareth Kiernan in Migration

There has been a massive upswing in net migration since mid-2012 as economic growth in New Zealand has accelerated.  Since September 2012, New Zealand’s unemployment rate has dropped from 7.2% to 6.0%.  Meanwhile, Australia’s unemployment rate has climbed from 5.1% in August 2012 to 6.0%.  The stereotypical migration story has thus been one of New Zealanders returning home due to waning earning potential across the Tasman at the same time as more job opportunities open up back here.  Does the migration data match up with this assumption, and can it give us a more in-depth understanding of the shift in migration flows?

Annual net migration bottomed out at an outflow of 4,118 in the year to August 2012, the biggest annual loss of people in 11 years.  A substantial chunk of this outflow, possibly as much as 3,500 people, could have been a result of people leaving the country following the Canterbury earthquakes.  However, by the end of 2013, annual migration had turned into a net inflow of 22,468 people.  Annual arrivals had risen by 10,744, while annual departures had dropped by 15,842.

Graph 5.10

Stay-at-home Kiwis behind dropping departures

Given that the biggest movement has occurred in departure numbers, let’s look at those figures first.

Graph 5.11 shows the proportions of departures by birthplace in the year to August 2012.  Unsurprisingly, New Zealanders made up the bulk of departures, representing 59% of all people permanently leaving the country.  As stated above, by the end of 2013, total annual departure numbers had dropped by 15,842.  The graph shows that 78% of this decline, or 12,119 people, was due to fewer New Zealanders heading overseas.  The only other nationality that showed a significantly disproportionate drop in departures was South Africans (down by 510 people).

The drop in New Zealander departures is not particularly surprising given that departures of other nationalities are less influenced by cyclical economic conditions, and are more a function of international student movements, working visa conditions, etc.

Graph 5.11

Graph 5.12 presents departure data in a similar fashion to Graph 5.11, but instead shows departure numbers to Australia by the area of New Zealand that people had previously been living in.  The graph shows that departure numbers from Auckland (down 1,894) and, to a lesser extent, Wellington (down 918) have not declined by as much as might have been expected.  The Auckland result might be due to a greater proportion of foreign-born people living in the region, with these people’s movements less affected by economic conditions.  The tight rein on government spending and employment could be behind the modest decline in the number of departures out of Wellington.

Graph 5.12

With the number of people leaving Auckland only dropping by a relatively modest amount, departures from the rest of the country have fallen by more than their fair share.  However, Graph 5.12 shows that the drop in departure numbers from Christchurch (down 1,779) stands out the most.  This easing in departures will partly be due to the quake-induced outflow falling away, but will also have been caused by increased employment opportunities in Canterbury as rebuilding work has got underway.

Finally, in terms of departures, Graph 5.13 shows the number of people leaving for Australia by broad occupational group.  The graph only shows about half of all departures, with the other half of people falling into the “unidentifiable”, “outside scope”, or “not stated” categories.  The number of departures across most occupational groups has fallen, although the standout was technicians and trades workers (down 1,718).  More detailed occupational data shows that a significant contributor to this decline was from fewer bricklayers, carpenters, and joiners leaving New Zealand (down 399) – an unsurprising outcome given the demand for construction workers in Canterbury and, increasingly, Auckland.

Graph 5.13

The number of people whose occupation is “outside the scope” of the occupational groupings (i.e. students, full-time parents, retirees, etc.) has not declined by a smaller percentage since mid-2012 than for people providing an occupation in one of the broad groupings.  This result implies that the number of people leaving for Australia for whom work is not a major consideration is still relatively high.

Arrivals from Australia and Europe

If we look at arrival numbers by birthplace, Graph 5.14 shows that the lift in arrivals since August 2012 has been driven by more people coming here who were born in New Zealand (up 2,711), Europe (outside the UK – up 2,361), and Australia (up 972).  Increases in the number of people coming here who were born in Asia (especially China and India), the UK, the Americas, or the rest of Oceania have been more modest, while the number of African and Middle East born people has actually fallen slightly.

Cutting the data a slightly different way shows that the bulk of the lift in New Zealand citizens returning to this country has come from Australia (up 3,825 – see Graph 5.15).  In contrast, there has actually been a slight drop in the number of New Zealand citizens arriving from the UK and other parts of Europe.

The increase in New Zealanders returning from Australia is not surprising given the number of Kiwis living across the Tasman, with the opportunity arising for some to come back to New Zealand to work as our economic performance has improved.  The increase in Australian citizen arrivals will also be economically driven, with employment growth and the absence of migration restrictions between the two countries encouraging more Australians to make the shift to New Zealand.

If we exclude New Zealand and Australian citizens, Graph 5.16 shows us that there’s been a substantial lift in the arrival of “other” citizens from France (up 850), Australia (up 849), and Germany (up 783).  The arrival of foreign citizens from Europe is surprising given that the region’s economic performance has been particularly weak for a number of years, but it is not limited to France and Germany.  There have also been significant, but smaller, increases in people coming from Italy (up 240) and Spain (up 90) since mid-2012.

Graph 5.14

Graph 5.15

Graph 5.16

Christchurch has been one of the destinations of choice for people coming from Australia to live in New Zealand (up by 840 people since August 2012), although a range of other areas have also been boosted by arrivals from across the Tasman.  However, if we look at arrivals from around the rest of the globe, the influx of people into Christchurch stands out (up 1,669 – see Graph 5.17).  The rest of Canterbury (up 185), along with Queenstown-Lakes (up 155), have also had more foreign people coming to live.

Graph 5.17

Rebuilding work in Christchurch is acting as a big draw-card for people overseas, with the entry of people from the rest of the world outweighing arrivals from Australia.  Although most of these people are choosing to settle in Christchurch, there also appears to be some flow-on effects for areas such as Ashburton and Queenstown-Lakes – areas from which people may be willing to commute on a daily or weekly basis.


The 18% drop in departures since August 2012 can be typified by fewer New Zealand born people leaving for Australia from everywhere except Auckland and Wellington, with a particular emphasis on Canterbury.  The bulk of the drop has been of people either working or wanting work, with a significant reduction in the number of technicians and trades workers leaving.

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