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Net migration rises but mass exodus of New Zealanders continue


New Zealand citizens flying abroad while migration numbers stay strong (Stock Image)

Praneeta Mahajan
Hamilton, May 16, 2024

There was an annual net migration gain of 126,000 in the December 2023 year, according to provisional estimates released by Stats NZ on May 14, 2024.

The net migration gain is the largest for a calendar year and compares with the provisional annual record of 134,400 in the October 2023 year.

“The net migration gain in 2023 is similar to the population of the Taranaki region,” population indicators manager Tehseen Islam said.

The annual net migration gain in 2023 was made up of a net gain of 173,000 non-New Zealand citizens and a net loss of 47,000 New Zealand citizens in 2023.

Net Migration by citizenship (Image Supplied by Stats NZ)

Record loss of New Zealand citizens

Statistics New Zealand has revealed a significant migration loss of New Zealand citizens, with 52,500 people leaving the country in the 12 months ending March 2024. This marks a notable demographic shift, highlighting a trend of New Zealand citizens departing at unprecedented rates.

Typically, New Zealand experiences a net loss of its citizens, averaging 26,600 annually from 2002 to 2013 and 4,000 annually from 2014 to 2019.

Departure Trends and Ratios

Most New Zealanders leaving the country went to Australia, with 53% of departures heading there. Mr Islam noted that migration changes are influenced by various factors, including economic conditions and immigration policies in New Zealand and other countries.

The latest data from Stats NZ indicates that for every New Zealand citizen returning to the country, three others are leaving. This stark ratio underscores the growing trend of New Zealanders seeking opportunities abroad, particularly in neighbouring Australia.

Provisional International migration estimates (Image Supplied by Stats NZ)

Demographic Breakdown

A substantial portion of the departing citizens were young adults. Stats NZ reported that 39% of those who left were between the ages of 18 and 30. This age group represents a critical segment of the workforce, whose departure could have significant implications for the country’s labour market and economic future.

The 173,000 non-New Zealand citizens who moved to New Zealand in 2023 almost matched the record of 177,700 in October 2023. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, from 2014 to 2019, net migration gains averaged about 60,000 per year.

The 2023 surge was driven mainly by citizens from India, the Philippines, China, Fiji, and South Africa. This follows the easing of COVID-19 border restrictions since early 2022 and changes in immigration rules.

Economic Implications

Economists and policymakers are closely monitoring these migration trends. ASB Senior Economist Mark Smith commented on the broader economic context, saying, “The net immigration outlook is highly uncertain, but we expect net permanent and long-term migrant inflows to cool over the next few years as the slowing economy reduces the attractiveness of New Zealand as a place to live and work.”

Mr Smith further noted that arrivals on working visas have decreased, reflecting tighter immigration rules and a weakening labour market. “With slowing demand for workers and increased competition for available jobs, fewer migrants are choosing New Zealand as their destination,” he added.

Impact on Labour Market and Housing

The exodus of New Zealand citizens, coupled with the reduced influx of working visa holders, presents both challenges and opportunities. On one hand, the departure of a significant number of young, working-age adults could exacerbate labour shortages in critical sectors. On the other hand, some believe that reducing the pressure on housing demand could help stabilise the housing market and contain inflation.

Government and Policy Responses

The New Zealand government is expected to review and possibly adjust immigration policies in response to these trends. Ensuring that the country remains an attractive destination for skilled migrants while addressing the factors driving citizens to leave will be crucial.

The record net migration loss reported by Statistics New Zealand highlights a pivotal moment for the country.

As New Zealand grapples with the economic and social impacts of these migration trends, strategic policy decisions will be essential to balance the needs of the labour market, housing sector, and overall economic health. The coming years will reveal whether New Zealand can reverse the trend of citizen departures and attract the talent necessary to sustain its growth and development.

Praneeta Mahajan is an Indian Newslink reporter based in Hamilton.

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