Latest figures show net migration flows into New Zealand were five times higher in 2009 than they were the year before.
Long-term emigration loss to Australia almost halved in the same period.
New statistics show 21,300 more people immigrated to New Zealand than departed last year, compared to 3800 in 2008.
Statistics New Zealand attributes the fivefold increase to a drop in people leaving the country. It says the number of New Zealanders departing long-term fell 19,000 to 41,500 last year.
In particular, the net flow of emigrants from New Zealand to Australia almost halved - from 35,300 in 2008 to 18,500 last year.
The figures show 26,000 New Zealanders returned to live here last year - the highest number since 2003.
Most visitors ever recorded in a month
About 341,000 people arrived in New Zealand in December- the highest monthly total on record, up 6% from the previous high of 322,000 recorded in December 2008.
On an annual basis, 2.5 million visited New Zealand.
The number of visitors from Australia jumped by 11%, but that was offset by large falls in the numbers from Britain, China, Japan, Korea and the United States.