Net migration plummets to lowest level since 1990s, tourism rebounds

New Zealand has posted a net migration loss of 11,500 permanent and long-term residents in the year to June, data from Statistics NZ shows.

The figures show the lowest net migration since the 1990s.

Thursday's data follows a loss of 10,700 people in the year to May and 8700 people in the 12 months to April.  

Stats NZ population indications manager Tehseen Islam said migrant arrivals and departures were both at their lowest levels since the 1990s.

"Migration gains or losses are historically due to a combination of factors, which include relative economic and labour market conditions between New Zealand and the rest of the world, and immigration policy in New Zealand and other countries," Stats NZ said in a statement.

The net migration loss was largely driven by non-New Zealand citizens, with 36,148 people leaving in the year to June while just 29,260 arrived.

"Non-New Zealand citizens continue to contribute the most to the annual net migration losses, with a provisional net loss of 6900 in the June 2022 year," Stats NZ said. "This compares with a provisional net loss of 20,300 non-New Zealand citizens in the June 2021 year."

For citizens, 20,000 arrived (down 44 percent year-on-year) and 24,600 left (up 11 pct).

The data also shows young adults driving the losses, with a 5600 net loss of people aged between 18 and 27 in the year to June. That was compared with a net loss of 1800 young adults in the 12 months to March. 

Border crossings up again

Despite still being well below pre-pandemic levels, the number of border crossings in June was the highest since borders were closed in March 2020.

According to Stats NZ, there were 420,200 border crossings in June - 206,000 arrivals and 214,000 departures.

Provisional data for July was even higher, with 308,213 arrivals and 324,927 departures. 

"The increase in visitor arrivals reflects changes in the border settings which include opening the border to Australian tourists in April 2022 and to visa-waiver countries in May 2022," Islam said.

Of the overseas arrivals into New Zealand in June, 74 percent were from Australia, 5 percent from the US, 3 percent from the UK and 2 percent from Singapore.

"The 94,600 overseas visitors that arrived in June 2022 represent a 30 percent increase from May 2022 and is more than double compared to international arrivals in June 2021," Tourism Minister Stuart Nash said. 

"What is also really positive to see is that visitors from the US and UK are staying longer and spending more than in pre-COVID times - despite visitor numbers being far less than 2019, the card spend is back to the same level."

The main reasons overseas visitors came to New Zealand in June included visiting friends and relatives (52 percent), holidaying (30 pct) and business (12 pct).

According to the data, the 105,100 New Zealand residents who returned from an overseas trip in June were mostly coming back from Australia (45 percent), Fiji (12 pct) and the Cook Islands (11 pct).

Net migration plummets to lowest level since 1990s, tourism rebounds
Photo credit: Getty Images

'Bungles on both ends' 

The Opposition has responded to the net migration statistics, with the ACT Party saying Labour "had more than two years of effectively zero immigration, yet the problems and backlogs persist".

"This is the result of bungles on both ends, people are leaving because Labour locked the economy down and borrowed $50 billion leaving us with a mountain of debt and rising prices," party leader David Seymour said. "People are struggling to get into the country because of Immigration New Zealand's archaic regulations and slow processing times making it near impossible.

"Immigration New Zealand needs to start thinking like a recruitment agency rather than a security guard as the giant sucking sound gets louder."

Seymour hit out at the Government's "closed border attitude".

"Orchards can't get fruit pickers. Building sites can't get builders. Hospitals can't get nurses. Farms can't get milkers," he said. "There are shortages of essential workers that are creating a wage-price spiral."

National MP Erica Stanford said New Zealand businesses were being failed by immigration settings.

"It is the 16th month in a row that New Zealand's net migration has been negative," said Stanford, the party's Immigration spokesperson.

"Businesses across all sectors are crying out for workers but it's clear that the grass looks far greener elsewhere and more and more New Zealanders are seeing their future lies overseas, under this Government."

The Government's immigration "reset" took effect last month. As part of the changes, there were 56 jobs that qualified for residency straight away.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said in July the Government had been hammering away at identifying where the skills shortages were.

"We have worked very hard to identify the skills gap New Zealanders have, the issues that businesses are facing and actually ease the path for those businesses to bring in those skills that we need."