Just two in five skilled and business migrants now settle in Auckland now compared with more than half five years ago.
Last year, only 4874 of the 12,106 migrants (40 per cent) who arrived under the business and skilled migration stream stayed in Auckland, according to new data released to the Herald by Immigration New Zealand.
Canterbury, Wellington and Waikato were the next three most popular destinations.
Back in the 2012/2013 year, 51 per cent or 4656 of 9109 who moved here through the migrant category settled in Auckland.
Massey University sociologist and immigration expert Professor Paul Spoonley said efforts by the previous Government and changes in regional economies had contributed to the change.
"One factor is the points allocated for those settling outside of Auckland, but equally important has been the need to meet regional skilled shorts, associated with the rebuild in Christchurch and the struggle to get health professionals in regions," Spoonley said.
Since 2015, new and would-be skilled immigrants were given extra incentives to take up jobs and settle outside of Auckland.
Those with offers for jobs in the regions, and who commit to remain there for at least 12 months, will get extra points that will count towards their residency application.
"Given skill shortages in some sectors and some regions, and the declared intention of the new Government, I expect that more skilled immigrants will be diverted from Auckland to meet regional needs," Spoonley said.
"But all this is dependant on whether the Government will also cut immigrant arrivals overall, and whether these cuts will be focused on low-skilled."
He said migrants to Auckland had more settlement options and migration pathways.
"Auckland is still the destination for two out of every five skilled immigrants, which is still three times higher than the next region Canterbury at 14 per cent," Spoonley said.
"But Auckland completely dominates the international student market, has a large number of non-skilled migrant category arrivals and has a much more complex labour market with many more options for immigrant pathways to settlement."
Skilled migrants are being drawn to Canterbury because of the rebuild, Spoonley said, and Queenstown's labour market is dominated by temporary and working holidaymakers rather than permanent immigrant arrivals.
Spoonley said occupational shortage lists reflecting regional, rather than national, demand and a partnership where regions play a more active role in immigrant recruitment and approval were needed to better balance the spread of migrants.
This is home for me now
Taiwanese national and IT specialist Harvey Hu came to New Zealand in July 2016 on a student visa.
However, the would-be skilled migrant applicant said he hunted for jobs outside of Auckland to he could gain more points.
The 34-year-old moved to Tauranga last year after securing a job as an iOS app developer, and said he's "quite happy" there.
"After just a few months, I already feel quite settled and I think this is home for me now, even after I get my residency," Hu said.
"The only thing I miss are my friends in Auckland, but I think as time goes by I will make new friends here as well."
Other skilled migrants who have settled in Hamilton and Whangarei told the Herald they did so because of cheaper housing, family connections and because they were looking for a slower pace of life.
Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway said regionalising skilled migration would be one of his top priorities.
He said in an interview with the Herald in November that he would be looking through proposals, and changes to policy and rules would be announced early this year.
WHERE SKILLED MIGRANTS ARE EMPLOYED
2012/13: Auckland (4656) Rest of NZ (3648) Unknown (805)
2015/16: Auckland (5386) Rest of NZ (5785) Unknown (1925)
2016/17: Auckland (4874) Rest of NZ (5445) Unknown (1787)
(source: Immigration New Zealand)