New Zealand set a new annual migration record for a 20th month in March, as more people moved across the Tasman from Australia.

New Zealand had net migration of 67,600 in the 12 months through March 31, Statistics New Zealand said. Migrant arrivals rose 9 per cent to 124,100 while departures slid 2 per cent to 56,400. Net migration from Australia was a gain of 1,900, the highest since August 1991 and the sixth straight month of annual gains.

Record migration has helped underpin economic growth, with the economy expanded at a 2.3 per cent annual pace in the fourth quarter of last year, boosting demand for housing, vehicles, services and retailing. Migration has continued at a stronger pace than Treasury and the Reserve Bank expected, keeping wage inflation low even as demand rises.

"Strong growth in the population as a result of net migration has been a key contributor to growth in spending and economic activity more generally, and has boosted the economy's productive capacity," Westpac Banking Corp senior economist Satish Ranchhod said in a note.


Still, Ranchhod noted that seasonally adjusted net migration slowed to 5,300 for the March month, from 6,000 in February. That's the lowest monthly increase since May 2015.

"Migration can be volatile on a month-to-month basis, so we're careful not to place too much weight on one month's data," Ranchhod said. "This could be the first sign that things are starting to turn."

Those on work visas jumped 12 per cent to 38,620 in the year through March, while student visas climbed 8.7 per cent to 27,704 and arrivals of New Zealand and Australian citizens gained 5.9 per cent to 36,355. India remained the biggest source of student arrivals even as the annual tally slipped 4.1 per cent to 9,815. It was followed by students from China, up 20 per cent to 5,719, and students from the Philippines which increased 70 per cent to 2,239.

Work visa arrivals were led by those from the UK, France, Germany and Australia.
The biggest influx was to Auckland, where migrant arrivals rose 10 per cent to 52,443 in the March year. Arrivals to Canterbury rose 5.4 per cent to 12,864 while those headed to Wellington increased 13 per cent to 9,194.

Tourism continued to boom, with visitor arrivals rising 10 per cent a record 3.26 million in the year through March.

"China's burgeoning middle class is boosting the pool of potential tourists," ASB Bank economist Kim Mundy said in a note. "Combined with increased numbers of holidaymakers from the US and Australia, tourism growth continues to grow strongly."

The increase in tourist numbers and international students has helped boost exports of services — which is now the strongest performing sector of the New Zealand economy, Mundy said.

See the full Statistics NZ release here: