Study indicates common concerns about migration overblown, writes Lincoln Tan.

The perception that migrants take jobs from New Zealanders and push up house prices are widespread, but the fear is overblown, a new report has found.

However, an immigration expert is warning that concerns, if not addressed, could lead to a rise in community tensions.

New Zealand last year had the highest net gain of migrants ever recorded of 69,100 - up 19 per cent, or 58,300 from the previous year.

More than 52,000 people were also approved for resident visas, up 21 per cent over the same period, with the largest source of permanent migrants being China (18 per cent), India (16 per cent) and the United Kingdom (9 per cent).

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The New Zealand Initiative study The New New Zealanders, Why Migrants Make Good Kiwis analysed available data on migration, and concluded that the country benefits from migration, or at the very least was not worse off.

"New Zealand is widely regarded as a unique place, renowned for its natural beauty, culture, economic freedom, and quality of life," the report said.

Researchers Jason Krupp and Rachel Hodder found that migrants "certainly had an effect" on the housing market, but it was one that was complex.

"That is because visitors on temporary visa, such as students, do not tend to buy accommodation but rent it," it said.

"In this they compete with Kiwis in the rental market, but the effects are modest."

About 125,000 people moved here on a permanent and long-term basis in the year to June 2016, of which just 12 per cent were permanent residents.

Rents in Auckland rose 0.2 per cent in September 2016 compared to the same month a year earlier.

The report quoted economists Bill Cochraine and Jacques Poot attributing the pushing up of house prices to returning or remaining Kiwis.

"Arrivals figures can overstate the extent of permanent immigration to New Zealand," it said.

"It is also important to count those who have not left the country. New Zealand's positive economic climate means more Kiwis are choosing to move back, even as fewer New Zealanders choose to leave."

Last year, New Zealand had a low net migration loss of New Zealand citizens of just 3100.

Massey University sociologist and immigration expert Paul Spoonley, however, said the migration picture was not all hunky-dory.

The international education industry had been plagued with stories of fraud, he said, and there had been many cases of exploitation of migrant workers in recent years.

"The high migration numbers have undoubtedly put additional pressures on infrastructure, especially in Auckland," said Spoonley, who is also a lead researcher in the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) project Capturing Diversity Dividend of Aotearoa New Zealand.

"We have got to look at how migrants can be more evenly distributed given that [the numbers of] those settling in Auckland are four times higher than the next destination, Canterbury."

Spoonley said that being an election year, he expected there would be a focus on the negative impacts of immigration.

"Brexit and the Donald Trump presidency will also make immigration a hot topic this year."

The report said there was little evidence to support the perception that migrants stole jobs from New Zealanders born in the country.

"That is because the number of jobs in an economy is not fixed. Migrants also contribute to job growth by increasing demand for local goods and services," it said.

India has overtaken the United Kingdom for the first time to become the largest source country for temporary workers.

A total of 192,688 people were granted work visas, up 13 per cent from the previous year.

Research into the effects of temporary migration in the decade to 2011 found a positive effect on earnings and employment of Kiwis, the authors said.

"This may be because migrants fill jobs that native-born New Zealanders are reluctant to do, and because migrants provide a boost to the sectors in which they work," they said.

In 2013, migrants contributed $2.9 billion to the economy in 2013, which equated to $2653 net per migrant.

Native-born New Zealanders on the other hand contributed just $540 million, or $172 per person.

"On balance, the available evidence suggests that New Zealand benefits from migration, or at the very least the country is not made worse off," the report concluded.

The report called on the Government to consider "reducing bureaucratic drag" in the immigration system.

High salaries should count towards a migrant's point tally, it said, and private businesses should be allowed to sponsor migrants to get more highly skilled migrants to move here.

It also said the Government could consider imposing an upfront levy on migrants to address concerns that migration imposes a burden on local infrastructure.

The MBIE Migration Trends 2015/16 report noted that people approved to work in New Zealand under its essential skills policy had risen 11 per cent from the previous year.
This was the fourth year-on-year-increase since the global financial crisis.

Other work policies, the working holiday and family schemes were also up 6 per cent and 14 per cent respectively.

Four in five international students did not remain in the country after completing their studies, with just 19 per cent of students transitioning to residence five years after their first student visa.

Nicole Wang says the big Chinese population in the city was
Nicole Wang says the big Chinese population in the city was "comforting". Photo / Dean Purcell