What can be done to entice more migration to regions far from Auckland? New Zealand continues to attract record numbers of people from overseas as both permanent settlers and visitors and the two are probably related. Of the 3.09 million tourists who came in the year to November, nearly a million said they were visiting friends or relatives.
Tourism is just one of the economic spin-offs from immigration, and it is one that is probably enjoyed by some of the regions that are not attracting as many immigrants as they would like. When Americans, Europeans or Asians come all this way to visit friends or family who have settled in Auckland, they almost certainly can be enticed to see the scenery of the South Island too.
But while tourism is booming nationwide, it is permanent residents that many of the regions need. New Zealand is no longer the land of scattered provincial communities that it used to be. It now has one of the most concentrated populations in the world with a quarter of its people living in Auckland. It is a trend that started long ago with internal migration, northward and from the country to cities as farms became larger and more mechanised. But the trend had gathered pace with immigration from a wider range of countries.
China is now the largest source of permanent migrants and seven out of 10 Chinese immigrants settle in Auckland. It is also preferred by most of the Indian and other Asian migrants. The larger their communities in Auckland grow, the easier it becomes for new arrivals from those countries to find a job or start a business here. The spiral may be virtuous or vicious depending on whether one lives in Auckland or elsewhere - and whether one owns a house in the city or not - but it is hard to see that much can be done about the demographic trend.
The Government already awards more immigration points for employment outside Auckland but the numbers claiming the additional points is declining. A decade ago, two out of three immigrants were taking work in the regions, three years ago the proportion had dropped to just over half. After a brief increase for the Christchurch rebuild, in 2013-14, the decline appears to have resumed. Late last year, the bonus points offered for employment outside Auckland was tripled and the points for starting a business in a region were doubled.
Over the past month, Immigration NZ reports, the additional points have attracted migrants from South Africa, the United Kingdom, the Philippines, Fiji and the United States, mostly to Canterbury, Wellington and the Bay of Plenty. The challenge remains to entice our largest immigrant groups, Chinese and Indians, to look beyond Auckland where 71 per cent of the Chinese and 57 per cent of Indians have settled.
It is a challenge for each region as much as national immigration policy. It is within the power of district councils to ensure their towns provide a warm welcome and social supports for immigrants without an established ethnic community in the locality. Some are making the effort. Good luck to them.