The number of immigrants applying to live in regional parts of New Zealand has increased after recent changes to the points system for skilled migrants.
But Massey University demographer Paul Spoonley says the scheme doesn't go far enough and won't boost regional economies on its own.
Last month 2500 immigrants applied to settle in the provinces – 562 more than in November last year.
"We've seen an increase of about 20 percent, which is quite significant given we haven't seen a lot of immigrants go to the regions in New Zealand in the past," says Mr Spoonley.
Earlier this year, the Government increased the points value from 10 to 30 for skilled migrants who were prepared to settle outside of Auckland.
"The bulk of the immigrants go to Auckland – over half of them," says Mr Spoonley. "Then many of them come here after they've arrived and gone to a region in New Zealand."
But Mr Spoonley says it's a challenge to keep people in the regions.
"At the moment the Government only requires them to stay for a year, and I think that's way too short. I think they should be required to stay in the regions for three to five years."
Economist Shamubeel Eaqub says international evidence is clear; this sort of migration only works when there are job opportunities first.
"The problem with the provinces is they're not able to keep their own people, and to expect migrants to come and stay there when there are few jobs is really quite hopeful," says Mr Eaqub.
"These are skilled immigrants," says Mr Spoonley. "They need skilled jobs in those regions."
Different ethnicities are attracted to different destinations. Mr Spoonley says Europeans, Americans and Filipinos tend to go to the regions, while the two largest groups of arrivals – those from India and China – are attracted to Auckland.
"Places that have strongly growing economies, skills shortages, they will benefit significantly from the new policy, but for places in decline and in stagnation, this will make no difference," says Mr Eaqub.
He is optimistic the provinces have great potential.
"New Zealand's provinces are ripe for growth. There is huge amounts of potential, but the sad reality is right now that is not happening."
Mr Spoonley says the benefits of immigration need to be spread around New Zealand. The change to the points scheme is a great start, he says, but the regions need to step up with jobs and by rolling out the welcome mat to skilled migrants.