New Zealanders are leaving for Australia in record numbers, while the flow of immigrants and tourists coming here has slumped.
Figures published by Statistics New Zealand yesterday show about 47,200 people left New Zealand for Australia on a permanent or long-term basis during the year to September. About 13,200 came the other way.
That produced a net outflow of 33,900 people from NZ to Australia - the highest since records were first compiled in 1978.
The previous peak was 33,700 in January 1989.
Immigration has also fallen to its lowest level in nearly seven years. In the year to September, the country gained only 4400 migrants - down from 8300 last year.
Tourist numbers slumped by 11,100 in the same period as tougher economic conditions affected overseas visitors, especially from China and Australia.
Richard Howard, chairman of the NZ Association for Migration and Investment, said the immigration figures were a worry, as the country was struggling to replace skilled workers.
"The people who are moving are those with skills who see more opportunities for themselves, and the skills available here are just reducing.
"Employers seeking skilled workers in New Zealand are going to find it harder, irrespective of the economic conditions.
"Many who move perceive that they and their families' lives and future, at this point in time, are better off in Australia than it is in New Zealand ... with higher wages, more job opportunities. The weather is also a factor."
Immigration consultant Tika Ram said his business had plummeted 30 per cent in the last year, and business migration interest had been "close to zero".
He said the "arrogance" of Immigration New Zealand and New Zealand's "impractical immigration policies" were a turn-off to would-be migrants.
"The immigration policies we have are not well thought-out, and written as knee-jerk responses - they are ridiculous and killing the flow of migrants," said Mr Ram.
National Party finance spokesman Bill English said the statistics were a reminder that New Zealand had major fundamental economic issues long before the current international crisis, and the increasing pace of the exodus showed New Zealand needed growth so New Zealanders could earn higher wages and have a better quality of life here.
Act Party candidate and former finance minister Sir Roger Douglas warned that more New Zealanders would leave if nothing was done to the economy, which he said was "hanging in the balance".
"The avalanche of people leaving New Zealand to go to Australia over the past year will be seen as a trickle if we don't put our house in order," Sir Roger said.
"The global meltdown means we're facing a financial tsunami."
* NZers to Australia 33,900
* Net loss highest on record
* Immigrants down to 4400
* Lowest since 2001
* Tourists down by 11,100