Annual net migration is dropping steadily, with far fewer migrant arrivals and departures in the eight months since border restrictions were imposed in March 2020, Stats NZ said today.

Overall, net migration in the year ended November 2020 is provisionally estimated at 52,400, based on 102,900 migrant arrivals, and 50,500 migrant departures.

"Almost all the net migration gain in the November 2020 year occurred from December 2019 to March 2020, before border restrictions were imposed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic," population indicators manager Tehseen Islam said.

Latest estimates show annual net migration falling from a provisional peak of 95,500 in the year ended March 2020. This peak was due to many people who arrived in New Zealand in late-2019 and early-2020 being unable to, or choosing not to, return overseas and staying longer than usual.


Low net migration since April 2020

Border restrictions, disruptions to international travel, and capacity limits in managed isolation and quarantine facilities have monthly net migration estimates well below levels seen in previous years.

In the eight months from April 2020 to November 2020, net migration was provisionally estimated at 5,100.

This was made up of a net gain of 11,200 New Zealand citizens, and a net loss of 6,100 non-New Zealand citizens.

“Historically, net migration gains have been dominated by non-New Zealand citizens, but since April 2020 this pattern has reversed, and New Zealand citizens are driving the small net gain," Mr Islam said.

Who is a migrant

‘Migrant arrivals’ are overseas residents, including New Zealand citizens living overseas, who cumulatively spend 12 of the next 16 months in New Zealand after arriving.

‘Migrant departures’ are New Zealand residents, including non-New Zealand citizens living in New Zealand, who cumulatively spend 12 of the next 16 months out of New Zealand after departing.

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. The classification of travellers as migrants is based on their time spent in and out of New Zealand, not what visa type or passport they cross the border on, and not on their responses on arrival cards. Given this, we need to observe up to 16 months of travel history, using the 12/16-month rule, to definitively classify a border crossing as a migrant movement. Border crossing data after November 2020 therefore informs the latest migration estimates.