Keith Rankin’s Chart for this Month: Immigration

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Net Migration chart: Not what we hear.

Headline: Chart for this Month: Immigration

Analysis: by Keith Rankin

Net Migration chart: Not what we hear.
Net Migration chart: Not what we hear.

We hear constantly about record levels of immigration into New Zealand, and claims that this immigration drives the increasingly overpriced Auckland housing market.

There are many statistics about people arriving in and departing from New Zealand; interestingly filed under tourism rather than in the economic categories. Yet one important statistic appears not to be collected: arrivals and departures for New Zealand passport holders. And, by subtraction, arrivals and departures for non-New Zealand passport holders.

I have taken the latest quarterly A-Z Information Release for ‘International Travel and Migration’. That source indicates, for the year to June 2016, that New Zealand has a substantial net immigration of “New Zealand resident travellers”. This category is defined, for arrivals, as “New Zealand residents arriving in New Zealand after an absence of less than 12 months”. And, for departures, as “New Zealand residents departing New Zealand for an absence of less than 12 months”.

Net inflows of ‘all others combined’ was about 4,000 for the year, and has been negative from 2011 to 2015.

While this is all very baffling, we must remember that a substantial proportion of New Zealand residents are not New Zealand passport holders. Further, how long people stay for – and go away for – often differs from their stated intention. What seems likely is that the key dynamic is that of more New Zealanders returning after being away for less time than they expected to be away for, combined with more foreign‑resident New Zealand ‘permanent residents’ (only some of which will be using New Zealand passports) coming to New Zealand expecting not to be in New Zealand for more than a year, but actually staying longer. There is a large floating population of global citizens with residential rights in New Zealand. This decade, relatively more of those floaters have spent more of their time in New Zealand.

New Zealand has no reliable intercensal data on domestic immigration.

So what of Auckland’s allegedly high net rate of immigration? First, one of the biggest drivers of net migration is a reduction of people migrating to (mainly) Australia from provincial New Zealand. That suggests that provincial New Zealand – not Auckland – is a major ‘beneficiary’ of net immigration. This would likely be true also for returning New Zealanders; largely provincial New Zealanders disillusioned with the places they had been living in, and not largely drawn to the supposed Auckland magnet and therefore not driving Auckland house prices up inexorably.

We also hear plenty of anecdotal stories about Aucklanders selling up and moving ‘down country’, and people (such as teachers) from provincial New Zealand resisting coming to Auckland, largely on account of housing costs and commuting inconveniences.

This morning there was a Radio New Zealand report about overcrowding in Auckland schools, written as if it was a reflection of Auckland’s burgeoning population. But the schools mentioned were both in Manurewa. Within the Auckland ‘Super-City’ there is net migration from the increasingly underoccupied leafy isthmus suburbs, towards in the likes of overcrowded Manurewa where rents are still a little lower.

We have no evidence that hordes of foreigners and returning cashed-up New Zealanders are descending on Auckland as their future place of permanent residence. Rather the anecdotal evidence suggests that net migration gains are disproportionately affecting non-Auckland New Zealand; a significant contrast with previous decades.

We should discuss immigration issues with the aid of more facts and fewer assumptions.

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