A new policy designed to get more skilled migrants to settle outside Auckland has made hardly any difference, official figures suggest.
Since November last year, migrants have been able to get more points towards residency by choosing to base themselves elsewhere in New Zealand.
Figures released to RNZ News show that, over the first eight months, the policy resulted in just over 51 percent of skilled migrants choosing to base themselves outside of the country's largest city.
In the corresponding period the year before, before the new rules came in, just under 50 percent had chosen to do so.
An immigration adviser, David Cooper, said extra points on a residency application might encourage some to move to the regions but most did not have a choice.
"The preference isn't based on the city, the preference is based on where the jobs are. So the jobs are in Auckland, so that's why the migrants tend to go to Auckland; or, as they have been doing, going to Christchurch during the rebuild, or going to other major centres."
The extra points policy wasn't a magic bullet to getting a better spread of skilled migrants around the country and other factors were already helping to draw them to the regions, he said.
"If they've got particular skills and if it's in tourism or building, a lot of them can find jobs outside of Auckland.
"And, frankly, the costs now of establishing yourself in Auckland are so high, they're more likely to go to the regions if the jobs are there."
'The regions themselves need to work harder'
Massey University demographer Paul Spoonley said provincial New Zealand needed to accept it was in decline, and work out how to manage it.
The immigration changes were not enough to turn its fortunes around, he said.
"I think we need to do more to incentivise migrants to go to regions other than Auckland. And I think the regions themselves need to work harder at recruiting and settling immigrants.
"We don't want to send immigrants to regions where there aren't jobs or where there isn't a welcome or there isn't the facility to settle them in those regions."
Skilled migrants, who made up 60 percent of all migrants, only needed to stay outside of Auckland for one year to qualify for the extra points.
This was another reason the provinces needed to work hard to hang on to these people, Prof Spoonley said.
"Certainly there's some evidence that they move to a region other than Auckland, get the residency, fulfil the conditions of the visa and then they will move to Auckland.
"And you can understand why. Auckland has very large immigrant communities here who can help establish yourself here, get a job here, get the food that you want."
Minister of Immigration Michael Woodhouse was out of the country and not available to be interviewed.
In a statement, Immigration New Zealand said feedback on its new policy had been positive but it would continue to review its effectiveness to ensure the regions got the help they needed.