Many people are using New Zealand as a backdoor entry to Australia, according to the Federation of Ethnic Councils, which says about a fifth of the 31,900 who crossed the Tasman permanently in the past 12 months were not born in New Zealand.
The number going to Australia to live is the highest since 1989 when it reached 33,700.
About a fifth of those departing were not born in New Zealand. Most were originally from South Africa, followed by those from India and Britain.
Federation president Pancha Narayanan says many people who fail to get into Australia use New Zealand as a backdoor entry.
Mr Narayanan says economic factors are behind the trend, but good cultural infrastructure would help to retain, as well as attract, immigrants.
Mr Narayanan, an Indian Malaysian who emigrated to New Zealand 22 years ago, has worked on both sides of the Tasman.
He says New Zealand has lost the knack of making people feel welcome and wanted.