Migration losses

Recently Statistics NZ released their monthly data on long-term migration flows for the NZ economy. They estimate that in the year to January we lost a net 7,600 people overseas after gaining 9,500 a year earlier and a large 85,100 the year before that.

There is a tendency for net migration losses to get revised upward over time, so the slight decline from a net loss of 8,100 in the year to November does not necessarily tell us that things are improving.

Instead, with the borders to Australia now almost fully open we are likely to see a large number of Kiwis hop over the ditch for better incomes, lower house prices, and a cheaper cost of living.

How big might the net population loss from migration flows be? There is no model which can tell us this. We have no past pandemics upon which to estimate how flows will shift in the years after the worst of things. We can’t really know how much weight to give to relative house prices etc., or the very tight Aussie labour market.

But the chances are that although we will see some migrant workers finally getting into New Zealand in the coming year, gross outflows will exceed these gross inflows.

The important issue will be not so much whether we get to -20,000 or -40,000, but the extent to which the data will generate discussion about problems in New Zealand and a lack of government policies to keep people here beyond higher welfare payments.

The talk of people leaving will tend to reinforce weakness in house prices, in Auckland in particular. But there is a special factor coming to offset that.

Most of the 165,000+ migrants on working visas in New Zealand who are now applying for the special residency visa reside in Auckland. Legally, they will soon be able to buy a house.