Massive jump in migration gain back to around pre-COVID levels

Annual migration gain continues to rise following the reopening of New Zealand's borders last year, returning to around pre-COVID-19 levels.

The latest provisional data from Stats NZ for the year ending February 2023 shows there were 152,900 migrant arrivals (up 195 percent on a year ago) and 100,900 migrant departures (up 41 percent).

There was been a net gain of 52,000 migrants, which compares with a loss of 19,900 in the year to February 2022.

Both the number of arrivals and departures are above the long-term average for pre-COVID-19 Februarys.

The net gain is roughly in the same area as it was before the pandemic - in February 2019 there was a gain of 49,512 migrants and in February 2018 it was 51,866.

"The provisional net migration gain of 52,000 in the year ended February 2023 was made up of a net loss of 17,300 New Zealand citizens, which was more than offset by a net gain of 69,300 non-New Zealand citizens," StatsNZ said.

"This is consistent with migration patterns before the COVID-19 pandemic, where New Zealand usually had an annual net migration loss of New Zealand citizens and an annual net migration gain of non-New Zealand citizens."

The gain of 69,300 non-New Zealand citizens in the February 2023 year is above 2015-2019 levels, which had an average net gain of 60,300 a year.

The net loss of 17,300 New Zealand citizens is larger than the average loss of 5100 in February years between 2015 and 2019, but smaller than the average loss of 26,100 in February years between 2002 and 2014.

"There have been 11 consecutive months of net migration gains of non-New Zealand citizens from April 2022, amounting to 69,600. This compares with a net migration loss of 32,300 non-New Zealand citizens in the 24 months from April 2020 to March 2022, when COVID-19-related border and travel restrictions were in place.

"There have been 16 consecutive months of net migration losses of New Zealand citizens to February 2023, amounting to 23,400. This follows 27 months of mainly net migration gains of New Zealand citizens, from August 2019 to October 2021, amounting to 32,100."

International migration was heavily impacted from early 2020 by COVID-19 restrictions, including the closure of borders. In 2022, New Zealand began relaxing these rules, with the border fully opening to all visitors and international students last August.

In February 2023, there were 266,900 overseas visitor arrivals compared to 261,600 in February last year. But the February 2023 number is still only 64 percent of the February 2019 figure of 417,900 arrivals. 

Of the 266,900 overseas visitor arrivals in February 2023:

  • 37 percent were from Australia (compared with 30 percent in February 2019)
  • 15 percent were from the United States (13 percent in February 2019)
  • 11 percent were from the United Kingdom (9 percent in February 2019)
  • 4 percent were from Canada (3 percent in February 2019)
  • 4 percent were from Germany (4 percent in February 2019).

"Just 2 percent of the overseas visitor arrivals were from China in February 2023 compared with 12 percent in February 2019. China was New Zealand’s second-largest source of overseas visitor arrivals on an annual basis immediately before the pandemic."