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The trends affecting migration

Net migration continues to confound, with a rapid series of twists and turns in trend. The latest official data shows that at the end of January 2023, annual net migration had surged back to over +33,100, compared with a net outflow that got as big as -19,700 in the year to February 2022.

Forecast revisions driven by current trends

Large upwards revisions to our net migration outlook in our April 2023 forecasts are based on substantially stronger trends in the actual data. These emerging trends provide a stronger grounding to help understand the likely pathway for various migration components going forward.

Foreign arrivals into New Zealand have rocketed upwards in recent months. Seasonally adjusted foreign arrivals over the last six months were up a whopping 825% from a year earlier, and, perhaps even more surprisingly, are 25% higher than in the six months to January 2019.

Foreign arrivals at the end of 2022 were trending higher than the inflow at the end of 2019, when people entered New Zealand and ultimately became counted as migrant arrivals when the borders closed in early 2020. Those migrant arrivals in 2019/20 were unexpected and essentially accidental, but the current trend is very much one of intentional movements.

We now expect monthly foreign migrant arrival levels to remain elevated throughout the next couple of years. Even so, arrivals will still moderate from their current extremely high levels.

In contrast to the unexpectedly large surge in foreign arrivals, foreign departures remain broadly in line with pre-pandemic trends.

Migrant arrivals of New Zealand citizens have also returned to similar levels compared to pre-pandemic. New Zealand departures have plateaued at an elevated level, from which we expect to see departures moderate back towards normal over the next few years.

Even so, this elevated level of Kiwi departures is not as great as the initial surge of people heading overseas in the first half of 2022, when MIQ was dismantled, might have suggested. The pent-up demand of people wanting to head overseas did not continue to accelerate, and it is this reasonably short-lived acceleration in the Kiwi outflow that has influenced our forecast of a similar moderation in foreign arrival numbers over coming months.

Large shifts in trend force our hand

Taken together, the various trends sketch a path of higher and more sustained inward net migration over our five-year forecast period, most particularly in the next 12-24 months. Foreign arrivals are a key driver of this outcome, given the swift pick-up and continued high visa approvals.

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