21 Mar 2017

Work visa arrivals behind new migration high

1:46 pm on 21 March 2017

The number of people coming to New Zealand to live and visit has continued to break records.

A woman with a backpacker wheels a suitcase at an airport

Photo: 123RF

Official figures show 71,333 people settled here in the year to February, just beating - by 27 people - the previous annual high set the month before.

That was despite a fall in the February month, with net migration easing to 6000.

Annual arrivals again set new highs at 128,816, led by those on work visas and returning New Zealanders, which more than offset a decline in students.

"About a third of all migrant arrivals for the year were people coming to New Zealand on work visas," Stats NZ population statistics senior manager Peter Dolan said.

"Just over a quarter of all work-visa migrants were from the United Kingdom and France."

More people departed, with 57,483 leaving in the February year, though it was foreigners leaving rather than New Zealanders shifting overseas.

Westpac acting chief economist Michael Gordon said net migration should remain strong for some time "with New Zealand's positive economic story, including its labour market, making us an attractive destination".

Tourism continues to boom

The number of visitor arrivals also rose to a record high 3.54 million in the year to February, about 7000 more than the previous annual record set last month.

Fewer Chinese tourists led to a decline to 380,034 in February, compared with the previous month.

Stats NZ said the fall reflected the timing of the Chinese New Year holiday, which fell in January.

But the number of holidaymakers from other parts of the world remained robust, with those from Europe and the United States rising 13 percent and 28 percent respectively compared to a year ago.

"With the World Masters Games and British and Irish Lions rugby tours just around the corner, we suspect strong numbers will continue," ANZ Bank senior economist Phil Borkin said.

New Zealanders took an all-time high of 2.66 million trips overseas during the year, despite a weaker New Zealand dollar.

The most favoured destination was Australia, followed by the United States, Fiji and Britain.