Migration slowed in May to its lowest rate in more than 18 months as the lure of job opportunities across the Tasman continued to draw New Zealand workers.
Permanent and long-term arrivals exceeded departures by a seasonally adjusted 250 in the month, Statistics New Zealand says.
Migration has been falling steadily since January, and is the lowest it has been since November 2008. For the 12 months to the end of May, immigration slowed to 17,967, down from a peak of 22,600 in the 12 months to January.
In the last year, 15,200 more people departed permanently for Australia than arrived.
Goldman Sachs JBWere economist Philip Borkin says the continued rise in the number of departures to Australia in the past few months is not surprising, given the better performance of the Australian labour market.
ANZ senior economist Khoon Goh fewer immigrants are arriving and more people are heading overseas, particularly to Australia. He says migration is not set to be the strong stimulus to the economy that it has been during the past 12 to 18 months.
Meanwhile, visitor numbers remained flat in May compared to the same period last year, as a partial recovery in visitors from Asia offset fewer arrivals from Australia. On an annual basis, arrivals rose 3%.
During May, 11,500 people from China, Japan and South Korea visited New Zealand, a rise of 60% on the same month last year when the swine flu pandemic had caused the number of tourists from Asia to slump.
However, numbers visiting from the three countries were still significantly lower than May 2008 levels.