New Zealand sinks into negative migration

Statistics New Zealand’s October 2011 report on international travel and migration is out and it makes for worrying reading.

While the official report warbles happily about more tourists attracted by the Rugby World Cup it is strangely quiet on a red-hot political topic: the number of New Zealanders leaving for Australia.

Some alert journalists have picked up on this, but even the most hard-working journo simply reads the full report looking for a headline. A little effort turns up the worrying cause and implications of this unprecedented situation: where more people are leaving such a popular country than arriving.

1) New Zealanders crossing the ditch
Kiwis are leaving New Zealand in almost record numbers and the report confirms a 20% increase over last year.

Actually numbers heading to most locations around the world are down on the last couple of years but with one highly notable exception: Australia. Numbers are up by 41% on last year with 49,460 (well over half of all outbound kiwis) choosing Australia as their new permanent home.

Many migrants are worried about this and rightly asking why so many Kiwis are leaving.

What official statistics confirm is that there is a normal cycle of New Zealanders heading to and from Australia every year. While the numbers leaving right now are high what we are seeing appears to be simply a big rise in the high point of that cycle and nothing that hasn’t happened before.

So why has NZ hit negative migration for the first time?

2) Current Migrant numbers
A quick check through this year’s Statistics NZ report to October shows that international migration – people coming in and out of New Zealand from other countries – is largely unchanged since last year with just a 2% rise.

Numbers from China, Ireland and France are up (1,391, 700 and 566 respectively), while arrivals from Australia, India and Fiji are down (1,200, 838 and 241 respectively).

But this apparent stability is false simply reflecting that the huge changes quietly made in 2009 and 2010 have now had time to settle down to ‘business as usual’.

3) The real reason for negative migration
Go back a year to the October 2010 stats report and you can see what has really happened.

Imagine that the number of people coming in and out of New Zealand is a pool of water. Up to a million New Zealanders live overseas in a normal year but the pool stays nicely full despite the ebb and flow because a steady and controlled flow of migrants tops it up. Even in a year like this when large numbers leave (and in 2008 even more Kiwis left NZ) the pool doesn’t empty.

But what would happen if you made big cuts in the number of migrants?

When you hit the high point of the cycle with a lot of people leaving you run the risk of the pool running dry and that is exactly what has happened.

Very few people are aware that from 2009 the government began cutting migrant numbers, concentrating on reducing the number of highly skilled workers needed to fill New Zealand’s skill gaps.

In January 2010 the number of applications accepted by the immigration department through the Skilled Migrant residency category were slashed by 30%.

The October 2010 Statistics NZ report confirms that international immigration was down by 3,809. Not only were migrants from Europe down by 12.2% (2,812) but numbers from the UK (NZ’s biggest contributor) had fallen by 36% (3,350) from 9,183 to 5,833.

SMC applications approved and declinedGovernment reports have blamed everything from the global recession to (somehow retrospectively) the Canterbury earthquakes.

To get to the bottom of this I entered a request under the Official Information Act but got fluff and nonsense back with no solid figures or data.

What government reports never mention are the systematic, ruthless but silent cuts to the number of skilled workers being allowed into the country.

This is confirmed by the immigration department’s first ever failure to meet it’s own quota for the year to July 2011. They didn’t miss by a little, they missed by 10% or 4,263 people, and nothing has changed since.

After the first quarter of the 2012 year the immigration department is on track for even greater failure next year as shown by the graph above but according to the Minister has no intention of changing the quotas it is failing to meet!

4) Just the beginning
New Zealand is and always has been a very popular country for migrants looking for balanced family life and a clean green accessible environment to play in. Unfortunately that is changing.

I have spoken to thousands of migrants and know that lifestyle trumps high wages as a priority. However families still need sufficient income to achieve their goals of a good work/life balance, comfortable home and great recreation.

New Zealand is my home. I love it here and I would never live anywhere else, but over the past three years I have sadly watched this country change beyond all recognition.

A good a practical immigration system has been broken and twisted into something which is no longer ‘migrant friendly’. Vulnerability of migrants and immigration bureaucracy has massively increased while transparency on applications has become a thing of the past.

The New Zealand government is forcing globally mobile migrants to take their skills elsewhere as I mentioned in June with New Zealand cutting its skilled immigration programme while Australia and Canada have increased theirs.

Skilled Migration Comparison
Australia, Canada and New Zealand

Making it harder to get in and stay is one thing, but at the same time New Zealand has become less attractive to globally mobile workers.

  • Wages have dropped while the cost of living has rocketed meaning that the numbers no longer add up in New Zealand for many migrants. For example a nurse in New Zealand currently earns a little over half of what the would earn in Australia and many Australian nurses are currently striking for even better pay and conditions.
  • Changes to employment law have stripped migrants of any ability to get the rock solid offer of work they need for visas.
  • Two major draw-cards for migrants are being systematically dismantled: the amazing ACC with protection and far reaching social benefits, and the best education system in the world which is now being forced into the same tragic and dysfunctional model as the UK.
  • Even the clean, green countryside is disappearing with agricultural pollution, mining and now oil spills which are likely to be the precursor to another ‘Deepwater Horizon’ disaster as NZ allows oil companies to drill even deeper test wells without controls or safeguards.

Australia is well aware of the international battle for skills and has recently opened two new visa centres in Christchurch and Auckland.

As NZ citizens do not need a visa and (in my experience) getting a visitor’s visa for Australia  takes a travel agent a matter of seconds these centres are clearly aimed at attracting more of New Zealand’s skilled migrant population over the ditch.

With higher wages, a stronger economy, similar cost of living and better job security many migrants from western countries are now clearly finding their sums add up to Australia rather than New Zealand and Aotearoa is clearly losing the international battle for skills.

5) Christchurch Rebuild
Pushing globally mobile skilled migrants elsewhere seems crazy to me. New Zealand already has massive skill shortages in certain areas like medical, engineering and IT and this is getting worse.

By my calculations cuts to skilled migration have lost New Zealand well over a billion dollars in direct income let alone the indirect value of taxes etc.

There is also the matter of the Canterbury rebuild requiring around 8,000 people from overseas. While numbers heading permanently into Christchurch have dropped by 25.5% this is in line with government cuts and not something to worry about.

What is increasingly apparent is that these jobs will be temporary. Migrants will be expected to travel half-way around the world with their families for a few years of poor wages but without the offer of permanent status – after their contribution they will be expected to leave.

Summary
This fall into negative territory should be a warning flag to New Zealand – not only that Kiwis are leaving but that immigration has become a broken a twisted wreck, choked by bureaucracy and making it increasingly safer to go elsewhere instead. If New Zealand does not change this pattern soon it will take many years to put this right.

Move2NZ has been waving a flag for three years now to warn about this, let’s just hope that it is not already too late.

Mike
Site architect move2nz.com


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2 Responses to “New Zealand sinks into negative migration”

  1. canada bound Says:

    Six years here now and well within reach of citizenship; but the plastic is maxed and the rental market is priced off the planet for third world quality (purchasing being little better). Looming Nat cutbacks & sell-offs were the final straws for us.
    Sure it’s getting tougher all over, but leaving and starting from scratch (again) is more viable than staying.
    Consider this skilled migrant position open

  2. "vεni, vidi, maybe next time" Says:

    I actually had to read this article three times, due to the sensation that I had either wrote it myself and/or it was written about me specifically. Then I read the comment from “canada bound”, and makes me feel my decision back in July 2011 was correct!

    You see, I was offered (in writing) permanent full time employment as part of the Christchurch Rebuild, under the skilled migrant category. However, after several (actually many) attempts at trying to negotiate a fair employment and compensation package, along with much personal research into NZ’s cost of living compared to other parts of the world, I had to say “thanks, but no thanks”! The bottom line is, as much as I wanted (and still would like) to work, pay taxes, live and raise my family in New Zealand, I can do it in just as beautiful places worldwide for 40% – 60% more in my pocket at the end of each and every month.

    Anyway, this article is dead-on accurate from my hubble option as one of those “globally mobile skilled migrants”. I have to compliment the writer of this article and move2nz for having the guts and insight to publish this story!

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