Chart of the Month: Migration roars back to life

Throughout 2021 and most of 2022, New Zealand experienced a net brain drain as migrant departures returned to normal but migrant arrivals were slower to recover. However, recent migration estimates show a rapid turnaround in net migration, with strong migrant inflows flipping the brain drain to a brain gain. Over the year to November 2022, 5,700 more people are estimated to have arrived in New Zealand than left.

Migration flow reversal

Annual net migration was negative from March 2021 until November 2022, with the biggest net outflow of around 18,400 people recorded in February 2022. Migrant departures continued to outstrip arrivals, with departures seeing a quicker recovery.

At the start of 2022, migrant arrivals were at 12% of pre-pandemic (2018) levels, rising to 82% by June 2022. In comparison, departures were at 80% of pre-pandemic levels in January 2022, and at 101% by June 2022.

By November, departures had increased to 146% of pre-pandemic levels, and departures had risen to 166%.

As Chart 1 shows, data published in 2022 continually revised net migration estimates lower for the 2021-22 period. However, the rapid increase in travel movements has spurred a recent change in trend.

Recently published figures for November 2022 point to just under 18,300 migrant arrivals in November 2022 alone, compared to around 12,200 migrant departures. The arrivals figure is the fourth-highest single month on record, with only a few months in 2019/20 higher, when people arrived intending to leave, but ended up being trapped in New Zealand as the borders closed in early 2020. Departures in November were the third highest on record.

Is migration getting back to “normal”

The pick-up in net migration has been very swift, but even still, the November 2022 figure looks incredibly high. Recent migration figures are subject to revision, and as the earlier chart shows, these revisions can be sizable. Given the rapid influx of travellers to New Zealand, we anticipate that Stats NZ’s migration model is being challenged to identify trends for migration after a period of low people movements.

If the November 2022 results were maintained over the next year, net migration would be above 73,000pa. We’re not expecting that level of migration to occur, particularly as the end of the year can be a time of stronger migration flows. But if we look at migration results for the four months between July and October 2022 and continue with the same average level of arrivals and departures, annual net migration would still lift to 32,700.

Higher migration levels are backed up by higher levels of visa issuance, with the trend level of work visa approvals at 104% of pre-pandemic (November 2019) levels already.

With a rapid shift from a brain drain to a brain gain again, we’ll be revising our migration forecast accordingly to account for the higher level of inward migration now occurring, and expected to continue occurring, over 2023.

Related Articles