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Net migration high but down from peak

Today’s release of updated migration estimates indicates New Zealand’s annual net migration for the year ended May 2019 was 46,100 (± 800), Stats NZ said today. This is down 9,400 from the estimate released in December 2019 due to improved linking.

“The latest net migration estimates indicate we are about 20,000 below the peak of 63,900 reached in the year ended July 2016,” population indicators manager Tehseen Islam said.

“Annual net migration has been above 40,000 since late 2014 and remains at a historically high level.”

Update to provisional estimates from improved linking

The latest migration estimates include an improvement to the linking of 15,000 arrivals and departures. These links were missed previously and make up 0.1 percent of the total 15.3 million border crossings from October 2018 to October 2019. This linking is fundamental to identifying whether travellers crossing the border are migrants or visitors when arriving or leaving New Zealand.

“An additional 1 in every 1,000 border crossings has now been linked to a subsequent arrival or departure,” said Mr Islam.

“This helps us classify those 15,000 border crossings as visitors rather than migrants.”

As a result of this change, provisional estimates of migrant arrivals and departures are generally lower than previously published estimates. Because arrivals have been revised down more than departures, net migration is lower than previously published estimates. Final migration estimates are unaffected however. Migration estimates for the year ended July 2018 have now been finalised with a net migration of 48,300.

One year since new migration estimates began

The new outcomes-based measure of migration was first published as the official migration measure in January 2019, covering the period up to November 2018.

Before November 2018, the classification of travellers was based on the intentions they stated on their passenger cards when they crossed the border.

Since November 2018, the new approach uses passport data to link arrivals and departures and accurately measure how long people spend in, or out of, New Zealand after their initial border crossing. To be confident a traveller is a migrant and not a visitor, we need to observe up to 16 months of their travel history (according to the 12/16-month rule).

With this new approach, it takes 17 months before final migration estimates are available. To provide timely results, we use a statistical model to produce provisional migration estimates. Statistics produced using these provisional estimates have uncertainty for 16 months; after this time, we can finalise the classification of all border crossings.

The improved linking noted above enables a more accurate classification of travellers as migrants or non-migrants. There is no change to the model that classifies border crossings for provisional migration estimates; simply an improvement to the ongoing linking of border crossings.

For example, arrivals that are not linked to a subsequent departure are most likely to be travellers who have stayed in New Zealand and are therefore classified as a ‘migrant arrival’. Conversely, departures that are not linked to a subsequent arrival are most likely to be travellers who have stayed overseas and are therefore classified as a ‘migrant departure’.

“Travellers often make repeated trips into and out of New Zealand, which makes it challenging to differentiate migrants from visitors,” Mr Islam said.

“However, calculating actual travel duration is a more accurate way of measuring migration than relying on passenger card intentions.”

Fewer migrant arrivals for year ended May 2019 in latest estimates

In the year ended May 2019, there were provisionally 135,600 migrant arrivals, down 6,100 from the year ended May 2018 and down 10,900 from the year ended July 2016 peak (146,600).

Migrant departures were 89,500, up 2,700 from the previous year and up 6,800 from the year ended July 2016.

Migrant arrivals and departures include the flows of New Zealand citizens as well as the flows of non-New Zealand citizens as both affect the population living in New Zealand.

Provisional migration estimates for year ended November 2019

Migration estimates for the year ended May 2019 are given above because these are subject to smaller month-to-month revisions than estimates for more recent periods. We can define travellers as visitors or migrants with more certainty 5–6 months after a reference period.

Some users of migration data may want to look at the most recent provisional estimates. These give a more timely indication of migration levels, although they have higher uncertainty and are therefore subject to larger month-to-month revisions than provisional estimates for earlier periods.

Provisional estimates for the year ended November 2019:
• migrant arrivals – 137,000 (± 1,400)
• migrant departures – 95,500 (± 1,300)
• net migration gain – 41,500 (± 1,600).

The uncertainty reflects the number of migrant outcomes that need to be modelled, compared with those that can be definitively classified according to the 12/16-month rule.

Impact on population estimates

Updates to migration estimates are reflected in regular updates to national and subnational population estimates. National population estimates: At 31 December 2019 will be released on 18 February 2020 and, as usual, will include revisions to the previous six quarters to reflect revised migration estimates.

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