Emigration rates to Australia

This chart from Stats NZ shows how much of a factor emigration to Australia – or lack thereof – was what is behind the big shift in net immigration.

It has dropped from nearly 40,000 per year to about 15,000 per year in five years.

Australia versus New Zealand

RNZ:  Australia considers NZ ‘soft entry’ point – PM

Prime Minister Bill English says he does not understand why Australia thinks New Zealand is a backdoor route for migrants wanting to get into their country.

New Zealanders living in Australia have been stung by numerous new policies that affect their entitlements and rights in the past few years.

At his weekly post cabinet media briefing yesterday, Mr English said Australian officials believed this country had become a backdoor way for migrants to enter their country.

“We would like to, I suppose, understand precisely what their concern is, because there is no evidence that the New Zealanders moving to Australia constitute some unique or special burden on Australia,” he said.

Mr English said the economic evidence was that they were “good net contributors”.

“This issue around whether New Zealand is a soft entry to Australia is one that in that context has come up.

“But it’s been quite hard to pin down just what exactly they think the problem is,” he said.

Australia stunned the government last week when it announced that from next year, the fees New Zealanders would pay to study at Australian tertiary institutions would more than triple – affecting about 12,000 people.

Following that surprise, Foreign Minister Gerry Brownlee met with his Australian counterpart, Julie Bishop, in Sydney where he accepted the lack of a head’s up was a one-off.

But Mr English said Australia gave no assurance similar policies were not on the way.

He said the government had no interest in a tit-for-tat exchange with Australia and it would not be reducing entitlements or rights for their citizens in New Zealand.

This is a big issue for Kiwis in Australia and for many back here in New Zealand. I have three children living and working in Australia.

Peters on Q & A

Winston Peters is being given plenty of media oxygen this week. Following an interview on The National yesterday he was also interviewed by Corin Dann on NZ Q&A this morning – although a slip of the tongue or two referred to it being a debate, probably how Peters sees his one on one encounters with journalists.

It was a typical mix of fair points with dog whistle rhetoric, bluster and straight out bull.

On immigration he addresses common concerns over the numbers coming here and the pressure in infrastructure and housing, but he just blusters when asked to explain how exactly he would achieve much lower numbers.

One thing on which he is totally away with the fairies on is polls. He slammed TVNZ for their polls, but when pushed on this he made some ridiculous assertions.

Dann conceded that NZ First has typically campaigned well and improved on polls by election time, but pointed out that polls were snapshots.

Peters didn’t buy this, and seemed to think that polls now should somehow guess what is going to happen on election day. He sounds convinced he is hard done by on this, if so that’s based on ignorance of how polls work.

When I can get transcript I’ll add it to this post.

NZ First are unusually higher in polls than usual mid term and many think they will improve on that in the election, especially with Labour’s ongoing missteps, but it is far from a given.

It’s possible that NZ First election support simply didn’t drop off after the 2014 election and may not rise much higher, or they may have grown their support base and could do much better this time. Or not.

What’s a good population for New Zealand?

In Packed to the rafters Duncan Garner asks what the ideal size for New Zealand would be.

This week the population was ticking past 4,792,550.

We are now the fastest-growing country in the OECD. That’s because we make it easy. We welcome immigrants, we welcome their families, we want their businesses – and their money. At all costs.

Infrastructure expert Stephen Selwood noted this week that given our population increase we need to be building a city the size of Nelson every year just to keep up, along with all its relevant highways, roads, drains, footpaths and houses.

We’re not even close to doing this. Our public policy-makers have let us all down. Big time.

Do our cities (especially Auckland) not want the growth that our Governments have wanted and allowed?

It’s a disaster. We need a proper debate about our population. What is the ideal size of our country? Is it 6 million? Is it 8 million? And how fast do we want to get there?

We need a public conversation about the size of our country, we needed it more than a debate about our bloody flag. And we still need it.

It’s easy (or at least it should be easy) to have a debate and a couple of referendums on our flag.

It’s a lot more difficult to have a debate about something changing as much as our population.

I suspect many people want the benefits of population growth without the additional people.

With immigration, some people win – but as many economists point out, many Kiwis lose out with rising house prices and foreigners competing for jobs.

We shouldn’t resent these immigrants. It’s not their fault. They’re just trying to find a better life. They’re ambitious for success. Good on them. Who doesn’t want a better life?

We need immigrants. They’re hard workers. And overwhelmingly the stats show they are not over-represented in crime.

Here’s the stat that got me this week:  For the year to March we issued 43,000 work visas, yet we have 140,000 Kiwis unemployed or wanting more hours.

I just don’t get it. If we have people available for work, why the hell aren’t we making them work?

It’s not easy to make people work, especially if they don’t have the skills or don’t want to move to where work is.

Clearly our employers prefer immigrants, our welfare system is encouraging lazy Kiwis to sit at home, and maybe a market economy like ours prefers keeping 140,000 unemployed while we bring in cheaper, hard-working foreigners. I sense all of the above is true.

We should also have a proper discussion about unemployment levels. It may be that there is a proportion of the population that either isn’t in a current position to work, perhaps for family or health reasons, or are incapable of productive work.

We used to hide the unemployable in mental institutions and hospitals, or give them jobs where over staffing meant they didn’t have to be productive, even if they were capable.

Back to population – what should we be aiming at? A continual increase, on average?


We had a similar increase in 2016 (slightly more). Fluctuations tend to mirror Australian changes.

An increase of 1.9% per year may not seem much but it adds up over time. Approximate projections if it keeps going at a similar rate.

  • 2017 – 4,792,000
  • 2020 – 5,070,000
  • 2025 – 5,571,000
  • 2030 – 6,121,000
  • 2035 – 6,725,000
  • 2040 – 7,388,000
  • 2045 – 8,117,000
  • 2050 – 8,918,000
  • 2057 – 10,174,000

So the population could more than double in 40 years. And that’s for the country as a whole.

Auckland is likely to grow at a faster rate. Both from immigration and also from population movements within the country.

A Stats New Zealand medium-variant scenario predicts that the population of Auckland will reach 1.93 million by 2013, just 14 years away. It is currently about 1.377 million.

If the Auckland population increases at the current national average it would be 2,562,000 by 2050, nearly double what it is now.

Imagine the impact that would have on housing and transport.

This is obviously all dependant on future Government immigration policies, and other factors like nuclear holocausts elsewhere and natural disasters here. International social or political changes may encourage Kiwis to return to New Zealand in bigger numbers.

It’s also dependent on politics, and the possible election of an anti-immigration government – like NZ First or even Labour, Andrew Little says he wants to reduce annual immigration by tens of thousands.

Immigration and population should be openly and properly discussed.

However election year is probably not the best time to do it as parties and leaders try to target voters who might respond to populist promises.

Immigrant to Little, Ardern…

An immigrant who owns a restaurant in Auckland and knows both Andrew Little and Jacinda Ardern has a public message for them via The Spinoff: Andrew Little is a regular at my restaurant. Here’s what I’d like to say to him about immigration

Israeli-born Yael Shochat is the owner of much-loved Fort St institution Ima Cuisine. She writes about the essential role immigration plays in her restaurant – and why the Labour leader’s vow to slash immigrant numbers by ‘tens of thousands’ has her deeply worried.

To Mr Andrew Little, and to dear Jacinda, whom I consider a friend: you’ve been to my restaurant, Ima Cuisine, many times. You’ve shared my company and enjoyed my most beloved dishes – immigrant food from all over the Jewish diaspora, and Palestinian food, the indigenous cuisine of my country. What are we going to say to each other next time you come in? Are you going to give “compliments to the chefs”, half of whom are not welcome here under your immigration policy? Am I welcome here? I certainly don’t feel welcome now that you’ve promised to cut “tens of thousands” of immigrants.

Your immigration policy (and the policy of the Greens and the National party) is based on racist tropes and stereotypes. Anti immigration sentiment is built on myths that don’t add up. We migrants are “lazy”, sucking up resources and putting a strain on the welfare system, and at the same time we work too hard – we are “stealing” jobs from “ordinary New Zealanders”.

This is false. Immigrants are largely young (considering we have an aging population this can’t be a bad thing), fit, and keen to work to better their lives. They are good people, they are healthy and they are paying tax. They are not a drain on society, they are holding it up! The jobs they are “stealing” are usually the ones Kiwis don’t want – low-paying and physically demanding. This unfortunately makes migrants more easily exploited by employers; that was certainly the case for some of my staff before they came to me.

She explains what she thinks Little’s suggested slashing of immigration will do.

Right now I, my friends and peers in the restaurant industry are all crying out for kitchen and wait staff. Stopping immigration – while refusing to actually address the underlying causes of problems in the job and housing market – will mean I won’t be able to hire anyone. I won’t be able to cook for you anymore. Many other industries will also suffer.

Stopping immigration won’t solve our problems but it will create more. Stopping immigration will divide our country and make it less safe.

Policies such as yours are dog whistles, mostly inaudible messages of demonisation and othering used for political gain.

If today it is the case that even the left can be covertly racist, we are emboldening more overtly racist individuals, leaving them more space to spread their hatred and their violence.

I understand that you are desperate for more votes this election, and sure, blaming immigrants for the ills of society is an easy way of getting them. So shift the blame on us as many have done before you. I just hope you’re ready to face the consequences.

I hope Team Little-Ardern do what they can to avoid the consequences by rethinking their stance on immigration and coming out with some actual policy that doesn’t harm those who have already come here and added value to New Zealand.

And more than Little and Ardern – immigration without discrimination and ostracisation is necessary for New Zealand to thrive as a compassionate and thriving multi-cultural country.

Principles of immigration

: “From my column today. Is there anyone who disagrees with this par (about how an immigration debate should be conducted)?”

  1. Let the first principle be this: Anyone who is already here is as Kiwi as Richie McCaw.
  2. Let the second be this: those of us who are already here get to decide who else joins us. There is no moral obligation to accept immigration.
  3. Let us also accept that the 800,000 New Zealanders abroad are entitled to come home whenever they want.
  4. Presumably also, none of our political parties is proposing ending the right of access for Australians to live or work in New Zealand, or to cut refugee numbers from the 876 who arrived in the year to June.

There’s a few contentious aspects to that.

  1. This depends on how you define “here”. New Zealand citizens would be included. What about residents? Once a resident, always able to stay here? Temporary visitors and tourists surely aren’t included.
  2. “All of us here” deciding who else can come here sounds very vague and impractical. Hooton can’t mean that $4m+ people get to decide on any new immigrant.
  3. It should be a given New Zealand citizens anywhere in the world who are able to return should be allowed to.
  4. Having suggested that “all of us here” decide on anyone joining us it is odd to then suggest that because no political party has proposed anything of refugees then changing to more or less should not be up for discussion.

Conclusion – Hooton was trying to stir up discussion. He can’t have been serious or can’t seriously thought this through.

Immigration and “using statistics much as a drunk uses a lamppost”

Vernon Small looks at the non-illuminating approach to The immigration debate: Please leave your logic at the border

Another month, another record immigration number.

Cue another round of political point-scoring.

It probably took Labour all the restraint it could muster to wait a full 90 minutes to react to the latest data, showing a net 71,900 had come into the country and a total of 129,500 “migrant arrivals” on these shores in the last 12 months.

Leader Andrew Little has reiterated Labour’s plan to cut migration numbers by “tens of thousands” but refused to name a figure.

Which makes his criticisms a waste of time.

Labour would, he said, “better match migrants with the skills our industries need, accelerate investment in vital infrastructure and build the houses that a growing population needs”.

The last two – infrastructure investment and house building – are necessary responses but not in themselves an immigration policy. Matching migrant skills to need is closer to the mark, but begs a number of questions. Which skills? How highly skilled? How many?

They are also the questions Immigration Minister Michael Woodhouse partly tried to answer with his move to “remuneration levels” as a proxy for skills. But he too failed at the crucial hurdle, talking only airily about “control” of immigration without answering the key question: How many?

It’s impossible to answer ‘how many’ when a significant proportion of movements out of and into New Zealand are New Zealanders who are not controlled at all.

But both men are guilty of familiar political crimes – keeping it vague or, as the old saying goes, using statistics much as a drunk uses a lamppost; for support rather than illumination.

While Opposition politicians – yes, Winston, you too – toss around the big numbers on record migrant flows and the highly variable “net migration” numbers, they are not the figures that are easily in their power to affect (though they do signal the level of pressure on school, hospitals, housing and roads).

The ebb and flow of New Zealanders, and others with the right to come here, is out of politicians’ control.

So we are left with vague claims, policies, assertions and insinuations.

At the border they show up as dominant in the statistics: 43,700 work visas and 23,900 student visas in the latest data, with a total “non-New Zealand citizen” inflow of 73,200.

If politicians want to look somewhere for a solution, they should start there.

In 2005 some 9650 student visa holders came in. In 2008 that rose to 13,139 and it hit 23,861 in the latest March year – actually 3800 lower than the February figure.

In the work visas category the growth is equally stark. The number was 17,056 in 2005, 21,883 in 2008 and 43,725 this March.

Over the same period numbers of those coming in on a “residence” visa have barely moved; from 14,943 in 2005 and 17,772 in 2006 to just 16,763 in the latest 12-month period.

Unless there has been a sudden slump in the skill level of the Kiwi workforce, there is clearly something else going on here.

Yet according to the number crunchers, the vast majority of work visas is approved onshore, so they do not necessarily show up in the information collected at the border.

And once someone is here, there can also be changes in how long they stay and in the types of visas they move on to.

If the Government or Opposition want to “control” immigration they need to look at the number and skill levels of those granted a visa both inside the country and out, not waffle around or indulge in “dog-whistling” about the country being swamped by migrants.

But it’s election year, and winding up anti migrant rhetoric doesn’t matter to politicians wanting votes.

The whole debate crackles with emotion and is electric with false leads and half truths.

Take one example: that the boom in migrant numbers is being driven by returning New Zealanders.

In comparative terms – how many are coming back and leaving compared with the days of a “Westpac Stadium-sized” exodus – there has been a big shift.

However, as Statistics NZ itself pointed out, more New Zealand citizens are still leaving the country each year than return as migrants. There was a net loss of 1300 citizens in the year to the end of March 2017.

The net migration of non-New Zealand citizens was actually 73,200; higher than the total “net migration” figure of 71,900 because of the net outflow of Kiwis.

As Westpac economist Satish Ranchod has pointed out, arrivals only account for half of the strong pick-up in net migration since 2012.

But the changing flow of New Zealanders in and out of the country makes it difficult to plan ahead with the number of migrants allowed to come here.

Sadly it is too potent an election issue for the Opposition to grant the Government a free pass in return for a spot of “tinkering” around visa requirements.

After all, the international debate about migration, and tensions in Europe and the US, did not get where it is today by a rational analysis of the options.

National are trying to patch over an imperfect immigration policy, while Little seems to be trying to compete with Peters for votes of those who have concerns about immigration numbers, as well as those who are just anti-immigration because they don’t like people coming here who ‘are different’.

It’s shaping up to be a nasty and un-Kiwi-like election.

Peters plays media with racist taunts

Winston Peters may have had a reasonable point to make about a Herald item today on immigration, but his attack on two journalists with Asian sounding names was widely criticised and deplored.

The Herald has responded with a statement from the editor.

The original Herald article: Top source countries for migrant workers are not Asian

A rise in work visas has been the driving force behind record immigration numbers but the main source countries are not from Asia.

A Herald analysis into immigration data found work visa arrivals increased from 16,787 in 2004 to 41,576 last year.

The top five source countries for work last year are the United Kingdom, Germany, Australia, South Africa and the United States of America.

The United Kingdom, which made up 16.6 per cent of work visas issued, has twice as many as those of Germany on 8.8 per cent.

Australians do not require visas to work in New Zealand – the Statistics New Zealand
figures however shows people coming from Australia as their last country of residence.

A response from the journalists: Why Winston Peters got it wrong: The Herald responds to his attack on our journalists

New Zealand First leader Winston Peters today released a media statement about the Herald’s coverage of work visas and the top five source countries for work visas last year. The statement’s opening paragraph read: “New Zealand Herald propaganda written by two Asian immigrant reporters stating the top five source nations for work visas are not Asian is completely wrong and based on flawed analysis, says New Zealand First Leader and Northland MP Rt Hon Winston Peters.” Here is the response from those reporters, Harkanwal Singh and Lincoln Tan.

A decent way to address a contentious issue by Michael Reddell: Which countries did Essential Skills visa grantees come from in the last year?

News on another immigration record: Record migration puts squeeze on housing, roads and the Government

Related video: Watch NZH Focus: Net migration to New Zealand has hit another record


“How mediocre our immigration programme has actually been”

Michael Reddell (30+ years doing economic analysis and policy advice in a range of institutions, in New Zealand and overseas) details an interesting recent history of issues) to the present.

Reddell was involved in the 2025 Taskforce, established in 2009 as part of a Confidence and Supply agreement between National and Act (a Dr Bryce Wilkonson was also a member of the task force along with Don Brash, David Caygill and Australian economist Judith Sloan).

To cut the story short, I had little interest in the issues until I was involved with the 2025 Taskforce, set up to advise the government on why the large income and productivity gaps to Australia had opened up, and to recommend a policy programme that might close the gaps over the following 15 years.   I was seconded to Treasury at the time, and there was also quite a bit of interest there in why New Zealand’s interest rates were so high (relative to those abroad).

The 2025 Taskforce did not –  as readers might expect –  come out in favour of high rates of immigration.

I came away from involvement with the Taskforce pretty supportive of the list of measures, and way of thinking about things, that they proposed.     But the more I reflected on the issues, the more it started to seem like a list of measures that, while useful, was unlikely to make a large enough difference to close the gap.

It was only out of all that experience –  mostly down to the good fortune of the secondment to Treasury –  that my current way of thinking started to develop.

Through this period, my focus was very high-level and macroeconomic in nature.  I kept being told –  by Treasury and MBIE – that our immigration programme was one of the best in the world (and there were papers to prove it).

I didn’t have any reason to disagree (I didn’t have the detailed knowledge and my background was macroeconomics), but as I always stressed, if my argument/analysis was valid, it was so broadly speaking regardless of the quality of the individual immigrants.

The last couple of years, outside the public sector, have certainly been an eye-opener for me, on just how mediocre our immigration programme has actually been.  It may well be that our average non-native born worker has among the highest skills of any of those in the OECD.

It may even be that our immigration programme is better than those of most  –  in many ways it should be, as we have full effective control of our own borders.  But it simply isn’t very good.

Even on those OECD numbers, the average non-native born worker (immigrants past and present) has skill levels below those of natives (the latter being among the most skilled in the OECD).

There have been many very able migrants, but averages are averages, encompassing the excellent and the poor.  The average isn’t impressive.

And the disillusionment –  stripping away of the old illusions and official stories –  has continued even in the last week or two.

At a broader policy level, MBIE released data last week showing that 57.5 per cent of those applying for residence under the Skilled Migrant category –  the most skilled bit of the residence approvals programme –  were earning less than $48859 per annum.  No doubt some of them would have been turned down, but the rejection rate of applications that get to this stage isn’t high.

On policy to date, a huge proportion of the so-called skilled migrants can’t even command that much income in the New Zealand labour market (and recall that 80 per cent of all residence approvals are granted to people already onshore, and I suspect that share is higher for the SMC category).

Perhaps I’m naively optimistic, but a week or so after these data came out, I’m still shocked at how low a skill level they reveal.

Our ministers and officials have repeatedly grossly misrepresented the programme and the number and sort of “skilled” people New Zealand is granting residence to.   If it were similar data on any other policy or economic topic, I suspect it would be front-page news in our media.

It looks increasingly like a costly sham.  New Zealanders have been sold the policy on one basis but –  whatever the merits of the policy they’ve been told we were running –  the actual policy looks to have been far worse than we were told.  And, I suspect, far worse than the people who first designed the more liberal immigration policy thirty years ago would have had in mind.

People will differ on how all this came to pass.  I’m not a conspiracy theorist, and suspect it mostly developed with the best of intentions all round (rather than, say, a deliberate attempt to drive up Auckland land prices and drive down lowly-skilled wages).   But good intentions don’t excuse shocking outcomes.  We simply don’t really have a skilled migration programme at all.

As I like to stress, I try to be an equal opportunity sceptic.  Immigration policy has, for 30 years, been pretty much common ground between National and Labour.     The Donghua Liu case shouldn’t be quickly forgotten.

There’s more detail from Reddell in Immigration thoughts over 40 years.

Croaking Cassandra blog (Economics, public policy, monetary policy, financial regulation, with a New Zealand perspective): About Michael Reddell:

Housing equation = increasing problem

According to Nick Smith about 30,000 houses are being built a year at the moment, up from 13,000 a year when he became Minister of Housing in 2013.

From Stuff: Nick Smith reflects on ‘small reduction in responsibilities’ after cabinet reshuffle

“There’s no question housing was under pressure because our population is growing strongly.

“I’m proud of my record in that when I became minister across the country we were building about 13,000 homes a year, we’re now building about 30,000 homes a year.

“And I’ve had my work cut out in getting the growth in house construction to match the strong population growth.”

According to Stats NZ and my calculations the population is currently increasing by about 145,000 per year:

New Zealand’s population is estimated to increase by one person every 3 minutes and 37 seconds.

According to NZ Population and Stats NZ the approximate population increases since Smith became Minister of Housing are:

  • 2013 – 50k
  • 2014 – 79k
  • 2015 – 92k
  • 2016 – 99k
  • 2017 – 145k

So in 2013 we were building 13k houses for about 50k more people, and now we’re building about 30k houses for a 145k increase.

That equates to 1 house per 3.84 people in 2013.

And Stats NZ say

In 2013, the average household size in New Zealand was 2.7 people per household, the same as in 2006.

That suggests a problem in 2013.

Now it’s 1 house per 4.83 people.

That suggests an increasing problem. Note though that “Stat NZ forecasts are based on recent trends and do not necessarily reflect actual population change”.

But even at last year’s increase of 99K  which at 30k houses is 3.3 people per house.

There’s other factors and possibilities – new households might be much bigger than average – but the housing situation doesn’t look like improving, in fact we are more likely to be slipping further behind.