Migration hits new annual record in March

The country had a net gain of 56,275 migrants in the year through March, 75 percent higher than the 31,914 gain in the year earlier period.

New Zealand migration hit a new annual record in March, as more students arrived from India and China and fewer locals left for Australia.

The country had a net gain of 56,275 migrants in the year through March, 75 percent higher than the 31,914 gain in the year earlier period, Statistics New Zealand said. Migrant arrivals were 16 percent ahead of the year earlier period, while departures declined 13 percent, the agency said.

New Zealand annual migration has broken records for an eighth consecutive month as the nation's economic prospects appear brighter than in many other countries. That's helping stoke economic activity, pushing up demand for housing and cars while also reducing pressure on wage inflation by boosting the supply of labour.

"There was nothing in today's data to change our view that annual net immigration will approach 60,000 later this year," Westpac Banking Corp senior economist Felix Delbruck said in a note. "New Zealand's construction-fuelled economic upturn is continuing to draw in foreign workers in historically very large numbers. And the inflow of international students remains high.

"These supportive factors won't last forever, but they are unlikely to weaken seriously any time soon. We expect population growth - already the fastest since 2003 - to accelerate further this year, to just under 2 percent, and remain high into 2016. That is good news from the point of view of economic growth and will also help alleviate labour market pressures, but it also means that Auckland's housing squeeze is likely to get worse before it gets better."

The decline in migrant departures reflects fewer people leaving for Australia, where the economic prospects are weaker following a slowdown in the mining industry. New Zealand had a net loss of 2,300 people to Australia in the year through March, compared with a loss of 2,500 people in the year earlier period. That's the smallest net loss to Australia since the March 1992 year when 2,300 more people left than arrived.

The gain in migrant arrivals was driven by India, with a net gain of 12,100 people in the year through March, followed by 7,700 from China, 4,900 from the UK and 4,000 from the Philippines. About three-quarters of migrants from India and half of migrants from China arrived on student visas, the agency said.

For the month of March, New Zealand had seasonally adjusted net migration of 5,000, ahead of 4,810 in February and 3,840 in March last year but consistent with the average monthly gain of 4,900 since August, the agency said.

Separately, the number of short-term visitors to New Zealand rose 15 percent to 291,784 in March compared with the year earlier period and setting a record high for a March month, the agency said.

"Visitor numbers in March 2015 were boosted by the Cricket World Cup, and the earlier timing of Easter and overseas school holidays compared with 2014," said population statistics manager Vina Cullum. "Although Good Friday fell on 3 April this year, travel generally increases several days before the start of holiday periods."

On an annual basis, short-term visitors rose 7 percent to a record 2.95 million, led by increases in visitors from China, Australia, the US and Japan.