New statistics suggest the strong migration that has fuelled much of the country's recent economic growth and housing demand may have peaked a year earlier than previously thought.
Annual net migration slowed to about 43,400 in the year ended November, from about 45,200 in the October year and almost 53,800 in the year ended November 2017.
The latest estimate, using a new outcomes-based measure developed by Stats NZ, shows that departures increased to about 100,600 in the November year, from about 97,200 in the October year. Arrivals were also higher but increased by a smaller margin, climbing to 144,000 in the November year from about 142,400.
Monthly estimates suggest net migration in November fell to a six-month low of about 2,600, with departures jumping to 10,800 – the highest since at least May 2017 and 3,000 more than in October. Arrivals increased to about 13,500, the most since January and about 300 more than in October.
"Looking at the broader trend in migration, it's clear that net flows are well off their earlier highs and are continuing to ease," Westpac senior economist Satish Ranchhod said.
"As we have previously noted, this is a key reason we expect potential growth to take a step down over the next few years."
Statistics NZ says the new methodology should be a more accurate measure. It is based on data from border crossings rather than the stated travel intentions people put on departure cards.
Brooke Theyers, population insights senior manager, says data from the new series has delivered both higher and lower results when compared with the previous intentions-based series.
"In recent years, net migration using outcomes has been lower than for intentions," she said. "In comparison, outcomes-based arrival and departure estimates are consistently higher."
While historic peaks and troughs tend to be close, she noted that the new series suggests net migration peaked in July 2016, about a year earlier than previously reported using the intentions-based data.
While the data will be volatile, ASB noted the 144,000 persons who arrived planning to stay for a year or more in New Zealand was the highest annual total since early 2017 and was both "a reflection and a support" to the relative resilience of the local economy.
Other data today showed 3.85 million tourists came to New Zealand in the November year, 3.6 percent higher than a year earlier and a new record. The 385,800 visitor arrivals in November were 7 per cent higher than a year earlier.