Net migration continues to ease in April, visitor numbers rise

Annual net migration continues to drop while visitor numbers are rising on an annual basis, latest figures show.

Statistics NZ says net migration is down 4800 in April from a high point a year ago, largely because more non-New Zealand citizens are leaving the country.

However, the net migration gain of 67,000 for the 12 months is still well above the Coalition government’s aim to reduce it to half that number.

So far, the government has made no specific moves to reduce the immigration flow. A year ago, the net annual migration gain was 71,900 and it has now returned to a level last seen two years ago.

Combined with today's other major statistics release, on quarterly retail sales, slowing population growth is a portent for the economy.

"This is not a dramatic drop-off by the standards of quite volatile monthly data, but the moving average does appear to be drifting lower," JP Morgan economist Ben Jarman says. "If this continues, it will reduce one of the key tailwinds to consumption in an environment of soft per-capita outcomes.

"And finally, visitor arrivals for April were down 9% year on year. The relationship between visitor arrivals and card spending has been tight, so while the stabilising housing market will assist durables spending, reduced visitor arrival and population growth is going to be a challenge to the Reserve Bank's GDP forecasts."

Increased departures
Stats NZ says the latest gain is made up of 130,500 migrant arrivals and 63,400 migrant departures.

“Interestingly, the number of arrivals increased in the April 2018 year, so it is the larger increase in departures that drove the lower net migration level,” population insights senior manager Brooke Theyers says.

More than 98,000 non-New Zealand citizens arrived in the April 2018 year. However, more than 30,000 non-New Zealand citizens left this country over the same period, up 23% on a year earlier.

Meanwhile, the net migration of New Zealand citizens is continuing with a loss in April of 1100 – made up of 32,100 arriving and 33,200 departing.

“The number of migrants coming to New Zealand to work has been generally increasing since the September 2010 year, and work visas have become the largest visa type from the March 2015 year,” Mrs Theyers says.

“Migrant arrivals of New Zealand and Australian citizens have also been increasing since September 2012, but this increase has not kept pace with the increase in work visas.”

The countries that were the biggest sources of work-visa migrants were the UK, France and Germany.

Visitor arrivals rise over 12 months
Visitor arrivals in April fell 28,000 to 283,900 compared with the same month last year. However, visitor numbers continue to grow on an annual basis – they increased 5.4% to 3.79 million.

“Last year’s April saw particularly high visitor numbers with Easter, Anzac Day and the school holidays all falling in the same month, making it an attractive option for many transtasman holidaymakers,” Mrs Theyers says.

More than 130,000 Australians visited in the April 2017 month and helped contribute to last year’s record April month arrivals (311,900). With Easter this year starting in March, the usual boost in numbers was less concentrated in the April month.

Although the March 2018 numbers rose to a high of 388,300, Easter numbers have not carried through to the same extent in April. Australia contributed the most annual visitors with 1.47 million, followed by China with 444,900 and the US with 337,600.

The number of Kiwis heading overseas was almost unchanged from April last year (down 900 to 243,300).

The biggest shift was the fall in departures to Australia (down 9000 to 97,900). This was partly offset by more trips to the US (up 2000), New Caledonia (up 1700) and Fiji (up 1500).