New Zealand had a record net gain in migrants of 64,900 in the December year, with fewer people leaving for Australia and more arrivals from across Asia.

The annual gain in migrants has set records for the past 17 months. Arrivals rose 12 per cent to 121,900 in the December 2015 year from the December 2014 year, and departures fell 2 per cent to 57,000, Statistics New Zealand said.

There was a seasonally adjusted net gain of 5500 migrants in December, down from the all-time high of 6200 in November.

The net inflow of migrants from Australia continued, with a net gain of 200 in December, the ninth month in a row. Before April 2015, the last net gain in migrants from Australia had been in June 1991. Over the year, there was a net gain of 800 migrants from Australia, ending a 20-year trend and indicative of Australia's economic slowdown.

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Of all migrant arrivals in the December year, 25,300 were from Australia. Fewer New Zealand citizens left for Australia, with departures down 11 per cent to 21,100 in 2015, less than half the peak departures set in 2010.

Migrants on student visas rose 22 per cent to 27,900 in the year. Three quarters of the 14,500 arrivals from India had student visas, while there were 11,000 migrants from China and 5400 from the Philippines, with nearly half the migrants from both countries having student visas. Migrants on working visas rose 13.5 per cent to 37,800.

All regions had a net gain of international migrants in December, with most going to Auckland and then Canterbury.

Just over half of all migrants with a stated address on their arrival card were moving to the Auckland region, which accounts for 34 per cent of New Zealand's population.

Last week, Reserve Bank governor Graeme Wheeler said New Zealand's economy is expected to pick up this year due to persistently strong inbound migration and high levels of tourism, along with an elevated level of construction work and improving business and consumer confidence, though he left the option of further interest rate cuts on the table.

December's housing data showed the Auckland housing market, which the central bank had seen as a threat to financial stability, showed some signs of slowing after the introduction of measures to quell the risk from a housing bubble, as migrants and investors competed for a shortage of housing stock.

The tourism boom is also soaring with overseas visitor arrivals hitting a highest-ever annual total of 3.13 million for the December year, up 10 per cent on the prior year.

Australia was the biggest source of visitors at 1.3 million followed by China at 355,900 and the US at 243,100. Those three countries also recorded the biggest increases on last year with China up 91,000, Australia by 79,000 and the US up 22,600.

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Visitor arrivals for December rose 11 per cent to 444,900, the highest ever in a month. NZME