Rodney Dickens unpacks the detail within the fast-rising migrant arrival flows and reveals some surprising trends

Rodney Dickens unpacks the detail within the fast-rising migrant arrival flows and reveals some surprising trends

By Rodney Dickens*

Net migration measures the inflow of permanent and long-term immigrants less the outflow of people leaving the country on a permanent or longterm basis.

In the last year there has been a 30,000 improvement in net migration, as shown in this next chart.

This has important implications for existing housing demand, as covered in the Housing Prospects reports, new housing demand, as covered in the Building Barometer reports, and for consumer spending and economic growth, as covered in the Interesting Times reports.

For info on these pay-to-view reports use the following link to our website –

The chart shows that the major source of the improvement in net migration has been a large fall in emigration.

We provided clients with an advance warning of the fall in emigration, with what is driving the fall and the outlook for emigration covered in our pay-to-view reports.

However, there has also been a significant increase in immigration, which is partly related to what is driving the fall in emigration.

But the largest source of the increase in immigration has been more immigrant work visas being approved, which is the focus of this Raving.

The left chart above shows that in the mid-2000s the annual numbers of immigrants arriving on work visas was around the same as the numbers arriving with residency visas, but around half the numbers arriving with no visas (i.e. Kiwis returning from OE and Australians arriving who don’t require visas).

In the 12 months ended in September immigrants with work visas had increased to 28,914 compared to 29,768 for no visa arrivals and 12,383 for arrivals with residency visas.

The right chart above shows the seasonally adjusted monthly numbers and the three month averages of the seasonally adjusted numbers annualised. In the three months to September work visas reached 30,756 on a seasonally adjusted and annualised basis.

Like most aspects of migration, work visas are highly seasonal so the seasonally adjusted numbers better show the underlying trend. For access to a discussion of how to interpret seasonally adjusted data use the following link to a free report on our website -

The adjacent chart shows that the selected part of Canterbury – Christchurch, Selwyn and Waimakariri – has experienced a sharp increase in immigration from overseas in the last couple of years that explains much of the national increase in immigrant arrivals with work visas.

The demand for workers for rebuilding in Canterbury is largely behind the increase in work visas in the last couple of years.

This link is the Canterbury Skill Shortage List approved by Immigration New Zealand. The list is reviewed quarterly but was last changed in November 2012 when 13 additional job categories were added (see more info about the additions and a general discussion of the issue).

This link is to a recent article that discusses the sorts of jobs where skill shortages are most noticeable in Canterbury and how the types of skills required will change as the emphasis shifts from demolition to rebuilding.

The Reserve Bank (RB) produces the most comprehensive “official” forecasts for rebuilding in Canterbury, with the adjacent chart sourced from the September Monetary Policy Statement (MPS).

The RB predicts that rebuilding activity will increase from 0.7% of total economic activity or GDP in 2013 to 1.9% by 2017. In dollar terms this equates to around a $2.5b increase in spending.

Capacity constraints and the insurance bottleneck discussed in our pay-to-view reports probably mean the build-up in activity will be slower than the RB is predicting, which the RB acknowledged as being possible in the September MPS.

However, there should still be a large increase in rebuilding activity over the next few years that will result in greater demand for skilled workers and, most likely, increased work visas.

The left chart below shows that the increase in work visas since the start of 2012 has been quite closely in line with the increase in consents for new dwellings in Canterbury, which reinforces the link between rebuilding and immigrant work visas.

The right chart shows that the fall in work visas between late-2008 and mid-2010 may have been a response to the deterioration in the national labour market that is reflected in the increase in the unemployment rate.

However, the rebound in work visas since mid-2010 has been accompanied by a limited improvement in the state of the national labour market, as measured by the modest fall in the unemployment rate.

Canterbury rebuilding much more than a national improvement in labour demand is the primary source of the surge in immigrant workers.

Sources of immigrant workers

Unfortunately, Statistics NZ doesn’t supply the breakdown of immigrants arriving with work visas for all countries of residence, but only for the 12 countries shown in the adjacent pie chart.

The adjacent pie chart shows the % of total work visa immigrants by country of residency for the year ended September 2013.

The second pie chart shows the numbers of immigrant work visas by country of residency rather than the percentages of the total.

When it comes to working immigrants NZ relies most on the UK, but the most interesting feature is that 36% of immigrants arriving with work visas come from countries other than the 12 listed in the pie charts (i.e. Other).

NZ relies on immigrant workers from a wide range of countries.

Ireland is one country not specified by Statistics NZ but has been mentioned by some as a country from which workers for the Canterbury rebuild could come.

While Statistics NZ doesn’t supply data for Irish work visas it does supply data showing total immigration numbers for people born in Ireland (blue line, bottom chart).

Over the last few years there has been a reasonably significant increase in immigrants of Irish birth.

I assume the upturn partly reflects Irish workers attracted by the rebuilding, although the Irish upturn started before the first earthquake.

There has been some underlying upside in Irish immigrants as well as a possible are more recent boost from Canterbury rebuilding.

On viewing data on total immigration by country of birth the other country not included in the list of 12 shown in the pie charts that has experienced a significant increase in numbers the last few years is France (i.e. immigrants of French birth).

It is possible that this partly reflects French born skilled workers to work on the Canterbury rebuild, but like immigrants of Irish birth, immigrants of French birth started to increase before the first earthquake (i.e. before 4 September 2010).

The story is a bit different in terms of where the largest increases in immigrants with work visas have been.

When comparing the number of work visa immigrants for the year to September 2013 with the year to September 2010 the Philippines has experienced the largest percentage increase, followed by Other (i.e. all countries other than those specified), Australia and China.

These four have experienced percentage increases greater than the average increase for all countries (i.e. the 48.8% increase reported in the pie chart for the Total), while the remaining nine have experienced below average increases.

Interestingly, the UK has experienced the smallest percentage increase.


*Rodney Dickens is the managing director and chief research officer of Strategic Risk Analysis Limited.


We welcome your help to improve our coverage of this issue. Any examples or experiences to relate? Any links to other news, data or research to shed more light on this? Any insight or views on what might happen next or what should happen next? Any errors to correct?

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Hmmm - from where I'm sitting I think predominately the new comers from all corners of the globe are in the service industry. 
A note to Stats NZ, you do have very poor record keeping. Keeping records of immigrants with work visas from12 countries is not enough.  Also the job types on the work visas should also be available.
In Christchurch you are likely to get your haircut from an Irish girl, a pedicure from a Philippino, if your eating out you will be hosted by various ethnicities depending on your reastaurant choice, if you end up in respite care or other elderly care again it will be a mixed bag of Philippinos, South Koreans, Japanese etc, if you want to pop into your local dairy it is usually an Indian owner or Chinese, if you need accupunture the best is Chinese and fotunately they are in most locations, there are Thai women doing leg massages and beauty therapy usually from their home, Chinese at the local fruit and vegie shop, South Africans for much of the internet and other IT stuff and Brits seem to be everywhere and the Americans mainly on lifestyle blocks. Germans I have not seen here but plenty in Golden Bay and Takaka, Fijians are on the building sites along with some Philippinos. A few South Americans mainly in dairying but some teaching Spanish on the side. 

I wonder if any article will appear on this site about the latest 23,000ha that have sold to foreigners, it is South Island sheep station now to Singaporeans, not the most natural sheep farmers I would have thought.
I wonder at what point John Key will say, oops it looks like we are too close to being tenants in our own land, better put a stop to this
My money is on never, and I reckon he just said that we should not bcome tenants in our own land to throw us off the scent
I have now taken to emailing mps and businesses etc when I want something said. I have emailed John Key will be doing the same with other parties later after work

Raegun - I understand your concerns and worries that you may have. NZ'ers will have to learn to invest overseas and then bring that income back. 
While I'm pretty much against off-shore investors buying NZ land it is more because I see the implications that this has on locals when they can't afford housing. I also know that many NZ'ers lack information, skills, and knowledge that would improve their lot in life. The cost of this ignorance is high as Governments tend to start meddling with tax payers dollars to assist those people who are deemed to have fallen through the crack. This tax dollar spending directly affects business as it is ultimately generating all spending. Its a vicious circle.
The thing is there will be investment cycles in housing as in any other activity to do with money.  If foreign investors decided to ditch NZ assets by volume there will be many ramifications which is always an issue in the back of my head.  NZ has a high reliance on foreign investors (I'm not talking about those who immigrate here) into one of our most expensive asset classes we have. I am astounded that Politicans and bureaucrats have not considered this investment and the ramifications of any large withdrawal from this investment when viewing financial stability etc. This should be part of good business practice when completing basic risk management analysis/plans.
Most private business knows that planning for the worst is good sound policy. Politicians and bureaucrats are not accountable if there is any type of failure as they are funded by the taxpayers. If they stuff up it is not their problem it is the people's problem as they are doing the paying all the way. If foreign investors pulled out they would also not be contributing in any way to our income taxes which leaves every NZ citizen/resident taxpayer carrying the burdon.

... the pie chart shows an interesting array of nationalities coming to NZ ... don't see much from the middle-east though , Turkey , Morocco ... their food really rocks ...
And Latinos ... a few more Argentiinian and Brazilians , to tart the place up a notch ...
Life is good in Godzone , when folks wanna come here , and invest in us .... Singapore money is as good as any other currency to me !

GBH if it continues to drag us ever closer to being tenants in our own land, then it's bad money. They are INVESTORS not immigrants
I am over NZers not being able to afford to buy in their own country and I believe the time is well and truly here to put a stop to it.
Yor view is very very short sighted
This is OWNERSHIP btw

That's where we differ , I take a worldwide view , and feel perfectly at home and accepted wherever I find myself .. and I'd like to think NZrs extend the same holistic view of the world , the arms of friendship and care  ....Manila....  Singapore ... Toronto ... Timbuktu .... Kiev far flung corner feels alien to me ....everywhere I go I get warmth and friendship ...
... well , everywhere except Australia of course ...

Perhaps, then it is time to seek out some of that 'homeliness'.........permanently

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