New Zealand saw record numbers of tourists and immigrants in 2016 with more migrants coming in on work visas and more holidaymakers than ever before, and economists expect migrant inflows to keep rising.
Annual net migration hit 70,600 in December 2016, with the biggest net migrant gains from China, India, the UK and the Philippines. Migrant arrivals rose 4 per cent to 127,300 in the year, also a new record, while migrant departures dipped 0.5 per cent to 56,700.
Short-term visitor arrivals, which includes tourists, people visiting family and friends and people travelling for work, reached 3.5 million in the year ended December 31, up 12 percent from the year earlier, Statistics New Zealand said.
New Zealand has imposed tougher criteria for skilled migrants and cracked down on applications for student visas over increased concerns about the level of immigration.
At the same time, the government has extolled the benefits of immigration, with a swelling population stoking more activity and record inflows of tourists underpinning an economy growing at a rapid pace. At the same time, a rising population has posed problems for policymakers by fuelling demand for an already-stretched housing market in Auckland, while restraining wage growth.
Today's data show the most popular country of origin for permanent and long-term arrivals was Australia, with some 26,000 migrants coming to New Zealand in the year, but this was offset by about 24,000 long-term or permanent departures across the Tasman in the course of the year. A net 10,310 migrants arrived from China in 2016, a 16 per cent lift on 2015, while a net 8,900 came from India, a drop of 33 per cent on the year earlier. There was a 54 per cent jump in net migration from the UK to 5,600.
"The past year has seen a marked lift in arrivals from the UK (up nearly 2000 people on last year's levels) and China. The increase in arrivals is mainly due to more people coming on work or residency visa, which has offset a decline in the number of international students," Satish Ranchhod, senior economist at Westpac, said in a note. "Second, the level of departures of NZ citizens is currently at very low levels, while the number of New Zealanders returning from offshore has risen steadily.
"These trends are expected to continue to some time, with NZ's positive economic story, including its labour market, making it a very attractive destination. We expect net migration inflows to remain strong for some time," Ranchhod said.
Of the new migrants who arrived in the year, a net 33,900, or 48 per cent, settled in Auckland, followed by a net 9.6 per cent who moved to Canterbury, net 5.2 per cent going to Wellington and net 3.9 per cent settling in Waikato.
There was a 10 per cent lift in work visas given out in 2016 to 41,600, with that category of visa accounting for the most migrant arrivals in the year, ahead of New Zealand and Australian citizens at 37,700. Student visas dropped 12 per cent to 24,600, while residence visas increased 18 per cent to 16,500.
Today's data show a 16.2 per cent uplift in the number of visitors holidaying in New Zealand in the year to 1.8 million, with most holidaymakers from Australia, China or the US. On an annual basis, Australians made up 562,000 of the 1.8 million holidaymakers, while China was the second-biggest pool at 311,000.
Business visitors rose 1.4 per cent in December from the same month a year earlier to 17,800, and increased 5.2 per cent on an annual basis to 289,000, about two-thirds of whom came from across the Tasman.