Our changing migration patterns: Net migration numbers are falling back from their recent highs but migration is still increasing in some areas and declining in others

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By Greg Ninness

Migration patterns are changing.

In the 12 months to June migration added another 64,995 souls to this country’s population, according to Statistics NZ, which while still hugely high by historical standards, was down by 10.1% from the net gain of 72,305 for the 12 months to June 2017 and down 5.9% compared to the net gain of 69,090 in the 12 months to June 2016.

But the net gain is not just declining, the rate of decline is getting greater.

In the fourth quarter of last year the net gain from migration was down 4.8% compared to the same quarter of 2016, by the first quarter of this year the net gain was down 9.2% compared to the first quarter of last year, and in the second quarter of this year it was down 20.4% compared to a year earlier.

So not only is migration slowing, the rate at which it is slowing is increasing, suggesting there’s a way to go before we hit the bottom.

And it’s not just a case of fewer people coming to New Zealand that is driving net migration down, the mix of who is arriving, and just as importantly, who is leaving, is changing.

In the year to June 129,536 people arrived in this country intending to stay for 12 months or more, while half as many (64,541) departed long term, giving the net gain of 64,995.

 

The 10.1% decline in the net gain was partly caused by a 1.4% drop in the number of people coming to New Zealand compared to the previous 12 months, but mostly by a 9.3% increase in the number of people leaving the country long term.

A large proportion of the people coming and going are New Zealand citizens.

Of the 129,536 new arrivals in the 12 months to June, 31,885 (24.6%) were New Zealand citizens, while 33,655 New Zealand citizens headed in the opposite direction and left the country, making up 52% of the long term departures.

So just slightly more New Zealanders left the country long term in the 12 months to June than arrived back after an extended stay overseas, giving a net loss of 1770 New Zealand citizens over the year.

The trend since 2012 was for the number of New Zealanders coming back to this country to increase each year, while the number leaving was declining, but over the last 12 month period, arrivals have started edging down compared to previous years while departures have been edging up.

But the change is only slight and it is probably still too early to say whether that is the start of a longer term trend.

However the net loss of 1770 New Zealand citizens in the 12 months to June was very low by historic standards and you only need to go back to 2012 when the net loss was 39,507.

If the net outflow of New Zealanders did start to head back up to 2012 levels it could slash this country’s net population gain from migration to under 30,000 a year, even if migration trends from other countries remained unchanged.

But at the moment, it is changes in the mix of non-New Zealand citizens that is having the biggest effect on changing migration patterns.

In the 12 months to June, 97,651 citizens of other countries arrived in New Zealand on a long term basis.

That was down 1.5% compared to the same period of the previous year and the decline has been evident since the fourth quarter of last year.

But there has been an even bigger jump in the number of non-New Zealand citizens leaving the country long term.

That jumped to 30,886 in the 12 months to June, up 20.8% compared to the previous 12 months.

The trend for more non-citizens to leave the country has been evident since the third quarter of 2016, so is now well established.

And it is gathering pace.

With fewer non-NZ citizens arriving and more leaving, the net gain of non-NZ citizens in the 12 months to June was 66,765, down 9.3% compared to the previous 12 months.

But where are these people coming from, or going to?

Let’s look at the six countries that have the biggest impact on our migration patterns.

Australia

Australia has long been a magnet for New Zealanders and that hasn’t changed.

In the 12 months to June 20,616 New Zealanders left this country for Australia and that figure has been almost flat for the last three years.

There are also quite a few New Zealanders who return to this country from Australia and that number has declined over the last two years, from 16,739 in year to June 2016 to 14,848 in the year to June 2018.

That has seen the net loss of New Zealand citizens to Australia increase from 3480 in year to June 2016 to 5768 in in the year to June 2018, but the change has been driven mainly by fewer kiwis coming back than more kiwis departing, although there was an increase in New Zealanders departing for Australia in the second quarter of this year.

The decline in kiwis coming back from Australia has been largely balanced by an increase in the number of Australian citizens arriving here long term, which means long term departures to Australia are almost matched by long term arrivals.

So for the moment, the overall impact of migration to and from Australia on the total gain from all countries, is negligible, even though the two way traffic across the Tasman is heavy.

China

China is our biggest source of migrants apart from returning New Zealanders.

In the 12 months to June there were 12,417 long term arrivals from China and Hong Kong, which was down 9.3% from the 13,690 that arrived in the previous 12 months.

Also over the 12 months to June, 3579 people departed this country long term for China and Hong Kong, which was up 40.4% compared to the previous 12 months.

That combination of fewer arrivals and more departures has seen the net gain from China and Hong Kong drop from 11,140 in the 12 months to June last year, to 8838 in the 12 months to June this year (-20.7%).

China is the biggest source of people coming on residency visas, and in the year to June 2985 Chinese citizens came on residency visas.

But that was down 19.6% % on the previous 12 months, and just under the figure for the 12 months to June 2016.

So the trend is for fewer Chinese people coming here to live.

China is also the second biggest source country for overseas students studying here, after India, but those numbers are also down.

In the 12 months to June this year, 5041 Chinese citizens arrived here on student visas, down 14.8% compared to the previous 12 months and down 15.1% compared to two years previously.

But China is also a significant source of people coming here to work and those numbers are rising.

In the 12 months to June, 2505 Chinese citizens arrived in this country on work visas, up 25.9% compared to the previous 12 months.

The numbers of Chinese workers arriving has doubled since 2014 and if that trend continues there will soon be more Chinese citizens arriving on work visas than residency visas.

So the overall picture for China is that we have fewer arriving from that country, mainly because of a decline in those coming to live or study here, partly offset by a rise in those coming to work.

And more Chinese are leaving this country after an extended stay, probably at the end of their studies or work contracts.

India

In 2015 and 2016 India was the biggest source of migration-driven population growth, contributing net gains of more than 12,000 in each of those years.

But the numbers have fallen away dramatically since then, with a net gain of just 6816 in the 12 months to June this year, down 43.8% since the same period two years earlier.

That’s been caused by a 30.5% drop in new arrivals from India, and a doubling of long term departures to India over the same period.

That has mainly been caused but a sharp drop in the number of students coming from India to study here, and by a lesser degree in fewer Indians coming on residency visas.

In the 12 months to June 2016 10,133 Indian citizens arrived on student visas, but by the 12 months to June this year that number had declined by 37.5% to 6334.

Over the same period the number of Indian citizens arriving on residency visas declined from 1397 to 1174, a decline of 16%.

United Kingdom

There is huge two way migration between this country and the UK but a major proportion of that is made up of New Zealand citizens.

In the 12 months to June, 14,242 people arrived from the UK, and 4920 of those (34.5%) were New Zealand citizens returning home after an extended stay.

The percentage of kiwis heading in the opposite direction is even greater, with New Zealand citizens making up the majority (50.7%) of the people who left this country long term for the UK over the same period.

The figures suggest the number of New Zealanders arriving from or going to the UK has been relatively stable for the last couple of years, but there has been a decline in the number of UK citizens arriving here long term.

In the 12 months to June, 10,520 UK citizens came to New Zealand long term and 8293 (78.8%) were on work visas, with another 1157 (11%) on residency visas.

The total number of UK citizens coming to this country long term in the 12 months to June was down 9.1% compared to the previous 12 months.

That follows seven years of consecutive increases in UK citizens migrating to New Zealand.

South Africa

Migration from South Africa has increased more than six fold over the last five years, rising from a net gain of 761 in the 12 months to June 2013, to 4983 in the 12 months to June this year, and it’s continuing to increase.

Just over half of South African citizens who arrived in the 12 months to June were on work visas, with another 25% on residency visas, while student and long term visitor visas made up the balance.

Interestingly, there were less than 300 people who left New Zealand for South Africa on a long term basis in the 12 months to June, and the numbers departing have been around the same low levels for the last five years.

That suggests that if South Africans are leaving this country at the end of their studies or work contracts, they are not returning to their homeland.

They are either going elsewhere, or gaining New Zealand residency after they arrive.

Philippines

The migration numbers for the Philippines are a little bit tricky.

They show that total arrivals from that country have more than doubled over the last five years, but have flattened out at just over 5000 a year over the last couple of years.

In the 12 months to June there were 5135 arrivals from the Philippines and 597 long term departures back to that country, giving a net gain of 4538.

Long term departures to the Philippines have been steadily increasing for the last four years.

However the figures also show that 6606 Philippine citizens arrived in the 12 months to June, which is 1471 more people than the total long term arrivals from the Philippines.

A possible explanation is that a large part of the Philippine work force is based outside of their own country and they may travel between countries as work opportunities arise.

So it seems likely that a significant proportion of Philippine citizens coming to this country arrive here from a country other than their own.

Of the 6606 Philippine citizens who arrived here in the 12 months to June, 57% were on work visas and 25% were students.

While the number arriving on work visas has increased by 45.9% over the last two years, Philippine student numbers have declined by 27.2% over the last two years.

All numbers in this article are based on Statistics NZ migration data.

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