Immigration, tourism hold at record levels

9:29 pm on 26 April 2017

Immigration has reached another new record driven by people on work and student visas and returning New Zealanders.

Official figures show a seasonally adjusted net gain of 6100 people in March, up slightly on the month before.

Migrant arrivals were 129,500 in the March 2017 year- a new annual record - and 57,600 people left, meaning the annual rate edged higher to a record 71,900.

The gains were driven by a continuing strong inflow of students, backpackers and New Zealand citizens returning home.

Last week the government moved to tighten the rules for skilled work visas, and limit the time unskilled workers could stay in the country.

Labour Party leader Andrew Little confirmed a Labour government would cut immigration by tens of thousands a year, but would not give a definite figure.

Annual net migration has been steadily increasing since 2012, with a rising number of arrivals and fewer departures. Almost three quarters of all migrant arrivals in the past five years were citizens from other countries, led by United Kingdom (10 percent), India (10 percent), and China (9 percent).

The remaining 26 percent of all migrant arrivals in the last five years were New Zealand citizens. However, more New Zealand citizens leave the country each year than return as migrants.

The tourism boom shows no sign of easing, either. Visitor numbers went up 9 percent in March on a year ago taking the annual total to more than 3.5 million.

Visa types contributing most to the migrant arrivals in the March 2017 year:

  • Work visas (43,700 - up 5100)
  • New Zealand citizens (31,995 - up 1300)
  • Student visas (23,900 - down 3800)
  • Residence visas (16,800 - up 2000)

Trump and Brexit push UK migrant numbers

Massey University Demographer Paul Spoonley said Brexit and the election of Donald Trump in the US were factors in the sharp increase in people coming here from the UK.

He told Nine to Noon the new figures showed the number of international students coming here had dropped by about 4000.

However, this was offset by an across-the-board rise in people on the work-visa category, which was now being "completely dominated" by people from the UK.

Prof Spoonley said this was partly due to demand in New Zealand for highly-skilled workers, but UK workers also had more interest in coming here after Brexit and the election of Mr Trump.

Westpac senior economist Satish Ranchhod said the country's strong economy was a magnet for new settlers and returning New Zealanders.

"Our positive economic conditions are encouraging more people to come in and importantly encouraging more New Zealanders to stay onshore."

Mr Ranchhod did not expect the strong immigration gains to slow much under the tighter working visa rules, but stronger growth in overseas economies would limit the flow and attract more New Zealanders to chase jobs abroad.

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