Work visa numbers are rising strongly while residency visas are declining and student visas are almost flat, Greg Ninness reports

Work visa numbers are rising strongly while residency visas are declining and student visas are almost flat, Greg Ninness reports

Almost one in 10 people living in New Zealand is here on a migrant visa, according to the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE).

Based on Immigration NZ data which is collated by MBIE (Immigration NZ is under the MBIE umbrella), there were 466,113 people on migrant visas in this country at the end of August 2019.

Of those, 193,311 were on work visas, 186,741 were on residency visas and 84,552 were on student visas, with another 1509 whose status was not defined.

Statistics NZ estimates NZ’s population at 4,917,000, which means that 9.5% of the population could be in the country on migrant visas.

The actual number will be a little higher because MBIE only counts people on residency visas for the first five years of their stay. After that they are counted as NZ citizens for statistical purposes, regardless of whether or not they have citizenship.

Over the 10 year period from August 2009 to August 2019, the number of people on migrant visas increased by 31%, from 355,380 to 466,113.

Most of the increase was due to growth in the number of work and student visas being issued, while residence visas have remained reasonably flat.

In the 10 years from August 2009 to August 2019, the number of work visas issued increased from 87,138 a year to 193,311  a year (+122%). Student visas increased from 58,398 a year to 84,552 (+45%), while residence visas declined from 207,966 a year to 186,741 a year (-10%) over the same period. (See Graph 1 below which displays the trends by visa types).

In the month of August 2019, 21,303 work visas, 8727 student visas and 3030 residency visas were approved by Immigration NZ.

In the 12 months to the end of August 2019, 242,730 work visas were approved, up 5.0% on the previous 12 months, and 34,863 residency visas (-11% ) and 104,811 student visas (+0.4%) – see graphs 2,3 and 4 below for the annual trends.

The comment stream on this story is now closed.

Graph 1:

Source: MBIE

Graph 2:

Source: MBIE

Graph 3:

Source: MBIE

Graph 4:

Source: MBIE

You can receive all of our property articles automatically by subscribing to our free email Property Newsletter. This will deliver all of our property-related articles, including auction results and interest rate updates, directly to your in-box 3-5 times a week. We don't share your details with third parties and you can unsubscribe at any time. To subscribe just click on this link, scroll down to "Property email newsletter" and enter your email address

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?

We welcome your comments below. If you are not already registered, please register to comment.

Remember we welcome robust, respectful and insightful debate. We don't welcome abusive or defamatory comments and will de-register those repeatedly making such comments. Our current comment policy is here.



National had the permanent migration settings horribly wrong to the extent that when median wage thresholds were introduced in 2017, resident visa applications under skill category almost halved.
Let's see how big a demographic disaster the next global crisis will create when the system is left with hundreds of thousands of out-of-work chefs, waiters and baristas to look after.


No mate, repeat after me: "We need lots of immigrants and we only let in scientists, engineers, construction workers and entrepreneurs".

You have to say this to yourself 100 times a day. Then it becomes a truism like "Foreign buyers make up only 3% of sales and so have no effect on the market."

Indeed. If you think that the hospitality sector is now staffed by low paid migrants in full time jobs rather than a mix of folk in part time and full time jobs...well, good sir, you're soundly mistaken. All NZ hospitality businesses would be perfectly viable if normal supply and demand were allowed to apply, yesiree!


This explains the rental crisis in Wellington.....

But it also explains that the impact of immigration on house prices is probably exaggerated, especially in recent years where a large chunk of the immigrant numbers have been work and student visas.
When I did a bit of advisory work for the government a year or so back I told them that the looming crisis was the private rental market. They weren't really listening.

If rents go up, one can expect a rise in investment activity in the housing market, ending in higher prices. Don't forget that rent is effectively the yield on housing investment.

Rent is only the gross yield. Investors care about the net yield, as well as the amount of stress involved in managing a rental property. And while costs (rates, insurance) keep increasing and legislative compliance (insulation, healthy homes standard) becomes more onerous, taxes become punitive, and tenants become more difficult to manage (unable to recover unpaid rent, claim for damage, or evict them) - investors will continue to steer clear.

Fritz, will they ever listen?

Nope. Based on my experience.


Those are some scary numbers.

I wonder if there is any other country in the world with a higher percentage??

Some of the Gulf states.


Talk about skewing the figures, how are the MBIE allowed to get away with this: "MBIE only counts people on residency visas for the first five years of their stay. After that they are counted as NZ citizens for statistical purposes, regardless of whether or not they have citizenship".

It makes sense though. Many people (especially Chinese immigrants) will never apply for citizenship because they would lose their citizenship in their country of origin. The New Zealand permanent visa conveniently gives you pretty much the same rights in practice as citizenship. Would you call someone who's been living here for 20 years on a PR visa an immigrant or a citizen? What about an immigrant who has been here for 5 years and got citizenship? They are technically both immigrants, and in practice both are citizens.

But here's the thing. Chinese folks don't revolk their home passports when they get one from a new country despite it being a legal requirement back home. The reason for this is that the Chinese govt turn a blind eye but always consider them Chinese nationals when they return home.

Some other countries which do not allow dual citizenship, monitor and take action against those who have obtained NZ citizenship but have not revoked the original one. I think they liaise with DIA, NZ.

Dual citizenship should only be for those who have genuine connections with both countries as in my niece's case, her father, my brother, and New Zealander and her mother, from Scandinavia and still a Scandinavian citizen. They are no longer together and both now live in their countries of birth. Niece has dual citizenship although the country she lives in frown on it.

Taking citizenship shows commitment, desire to stay and build a life here, family, education, investment for life, sense of belonging, etc. Whenever it is taken, doesn't matter.
Being on indefinite PR is just hedging one's bets and be ready to fly away at the sign of persistent trouble. If it is not converted to citizenship after a reasonable time, it matters, certainly, in a broader sense.
Even in this age of shrunken world, these things have meaning and value.

Not acceptable MBIE. I think citizenship is important, it's a marker or who is who. And as a nationalist, I believe citizens should have distinct rights others don't.

european countries with open borders must think we are crazy,they cant stop the migrants but we can dial it down.auckland airport feels claustrophobic now.used to be relaxing and now its a miniature heathrow.


This has happened in quite a few countries before New Zealand. We'll likely see the rise of populism in New Zealand as a result just as we have seen in those countries.

As an intermediary step we'll likely groups starting to speak out against such a staggeringly high immigration rate. These will be duly labelled Far Right and shouted down, regardless of their actual stripes.

Immigration is a good thing, but like cake, it's possible to have too much. And politicians should actually represent those who elect them. Two simple propositions.

And because the majority of New Zealanders are white, they'll be called racists, labelled White Nationalists, and have their social media accounts deleted.

Maori are silent - not sure why they like immigration - is it because most immigrants don't go to locations where Maori live?

Karma's a b*tch. Maori are laughing as whites get a mild dose of their own medicine, see how they like being the minority in 50 years. At least the immigrants are not stealing the land like the whites did.

problem is when a chinese or immigrant party takes power, what will the treaty of waiitangi mean to them? maybe they'll just lock the maori up in"re-education camps" like they do with the chinese muslims.....

Same as it means to whites... nothing. "prison" (pakeha) - "re-education camp" (chinese) - No change for Maori.

Will be a shock though for the whites who end up being "re-educated" now they are a minority also.

The Chinese would just roll tanks through Ihumateo. Maori better not laugh too loud.

The [Maori] Council has called for a review of heritage, planning and migration policies in light of the Ihumātao land protest in Auckland.

"Then let's really look at the sustainability of a growing population that drives the sort of development we are seeing being proposed for places like Ihumātao," [executive director] Matthew Tukaki said in a statement on Sunday.

"When do we reach that tipping point? When do we say enough to the sort of migration flows we have been seeing in recent years and when is it we shut some of those working visa categories and spend more time trying to attract some of the more than half a million Kiwis to return home with their skills and cash in hand."
He elaborated on the statement on Breakfast on Monday, saying one of the driving forces behind the plans to develop Ihumātao, near Auckland Airport was "obviously the insatiable demand for housing".

"I'm not saying turn off the entire immigration tap... what we're talking about is let's have an honest conversation about what the population make up looks like, and to reasonably ask the question, 'if we can't afford to house current New Zealanders, if we can't afford the current health system, if we can't afford food for our children, and all these other things, why are we increasingly bringing even more people in?'"

It was on the Breakfast show. Host Jehan Casinader's response?

"That is a xenophobic dog whistle, Matthew, and I think you know that," he said.

A Maori can say that realistically but with my just four generations of NZ heritage, I cannot.
Right now I can just think quietly.

Don't think they are silent on it.

They may not be being listened to either, but they're not silent.

If it quacks like a duck ...

"And politicians should actually represent those who elect them."

and therein lies the rub. You can enrol to vote in NZ if you are a:
- NZ Citizen

or if you are a
- NZ Permanent Resident (electoral commission deems this as anybody that does not have to leave by a specific date)
- Australian Citizen
- Niuean Citizen
- Tokelauan Citizen
- Cook Island's Citizen



Crazy as, giving voting rights to non-citizens. Why are we persisting with this foolishness ? Time to write to your MP/PM/Dy PM/Gov General, etc...

Yes, It really is simple.

Citizen = right to vote
Citizen = right to own property
Citizen = right to free healthcare
Citizen = right to free education
Citizen = right to welfare

Anything else is lunacy.

Good luck with that. I think you overestimate the value of NZ to immigrants. Perhaps if only citizens are required to taxes that would make your ethnocentric proposals slightly more palatable.

Good luck with that writing to MPs, in terms of getting a response. Responses to my (polite and reasonable) correspondence has been very tardy or non-existent. And that is to both Labour MPs and National MPs.

I have emailed my MP and PM, let me see what the response is.

'Of those, 193,311 were on work visas, 186,741 were on residency visas and 84,552 were on student visas, with another 1509 whose status was not defined.
Statistics NZ estimates NZ’s population at 4,917,000, which means that 9.5% of the population could be in the country on migrant visas'.

Really ? Not sure I understand this correctly. Only 84552 international students in NZ at the end of August 2019 ?
Doesn't sound much, does it. Same with people on work visas, only 193,311 ? I understand most of the spouses of those on student visas automatically get work visas...

How many of the total population are citizens ?
How many on Indefinite Residence visas ?
How many on work visas ? How many on student visas ?

Is there any break up available with Statistics NZ ? Even with no recent census, that would be an important information.

How can there only be 84,000 people in the country on student visas, when 104,000 were issued in the last 12 months alone? Add in those who are part way through a 3-4 year course, and thats more like 300,000 in the country on student visas.

As I understand it, a ton of students come for one semester, or even one or two months.

Student Visas are not just for people doing full courses, but are also for those taking part in University exchanges etc, which are usually short.

Immigration changes announced yesterday should reduce the number of residency visa's issued

Or at least improve the skill level of primary applicants. Businesses in our 5 major cities will have to make a stronger case to sponsor migrants on salaries less than 104k.
I heard this from a friend last evening that INZ intends to check pay rates offered to migrant applicants in non-skill shortage roles against median rates for relevant occupation and experience. As a result, businesses in cities will either have to stop wage suppression or move to a regional centre to pay lower wages. Smart move provided it's executed as intended.


Er, provided the applicants (employer and employer and agents) are not in fact highly skilled at evading the authorities. People from less democratic countries need to develop these skills to survive.

If it is of any consolation at all - 10+ years ago, Singapore immigration statistics is 1 out of 3. In 2017, it was 2.62 million out of 5.61 million (46.78%). In 2019, it is fair to estimate that immigrants constitute 1 in 2 of the population of 5.8 million. "Globalization"! - Love it or hate it. (Link: )

In Singapore temporary migration is actually temporary, by design as a commercial hub. There's no easy path to long term life in Singapore. I have friends who have migrated to New Zealand because they didn't have the option of staying for life in Singapore, despite being highly skilled and making a lot of money there.

Data collection on people is far more wide spread and monitoring is constant in Singapore.
They can spot the over stayers, non visa holders, etc very easily and take action.
Here, we don't even know how many of our population are citizens, right ?

True. The city-state has a lot to offer for talented workers. I had the opportunity to attend a networking event hosted by McKinsey in Singapore a few months ago. They probably have more world top 20 university alumni on their payroll of 250 staff than those living and working in all of NZ.

And here we are, patting ourselves on the back by setting a threshold for "highly-paid" workers at 52k a year (33k USD).

Almost one in 10 people living in New Zealand is here on a migrant visa... the other 9 just don't speak English.

That one in ten people, I wonder what the ratio would be if it were just the population of working age in the equation. My guess is the number would a lot higher

It would be interesting to add the tourism numbers in, if the objective was to understand the demand pressure for accomodation. The lines between tourism accomodation, state housing, BnB and private rental no longer exists.

This is very interesting in relation to the supposed housing shortage. If we look at Spain’s housing market boom and bust during the GFC. Spain imported a lot of migrant workers during the boom to fill capacity, creating more housing needs and fueling the boom further. It eventually went into reverse of course, many workers left as things deteriorated and the housing market collapsed, compounding the downturn. Just Google it to read more about that.

Interesting or not interesting,Carie Lam the Hong Kong mouthpiece for the Chinese had to renounce her British Citizenship to get the job.
Her husband and children retain their British Citizenship.
When she loses favour with the CCP she will be staying right where she is but her family will be gone to join the Brexit or nobrexit country.


Boy oh boy those are enormous numbers, quite how anyone in Wellington thinks the Country can cope with being inundated like this must have rocks in their heads. Whats the plan going ahead...IS THERE ONE?

When the time comes where resources become really thin, which is coming regardless of it being internally or externally driven, and we need to lose half a million people, then we'll find out just what the difference between permanent resident and citizen really is.

Ridiculous numbers truly ridiculous. What a travesty that this great country that my ancestors built is getting abused to this extent. My family like many own a lot of property and may have become very wealthy as a result but what a societal cost. Please for the love of god stop this madness. Is there anyone we can vote for that will?

Politicians like that unearned wealth from property more than they care about their country.

Huh? In the last few decades the world has became globalized and borderless (Not just in NZ). Think about the Pakeha who migrated here and occupied the Maori land a few centuries ago. & then read about the NIMBYism today (, where the Maori are living on beaches because the "Have's" do not want to live next to the "Haves Not", and refused to have state houses built in Puriri Park. Classic. How can housing crisis ever be solved when construction companies are going bust and NIMBYism are allowed to have such a big say?

I really worry about how Maori are experiencing this. For instance, several of my friends from various iwi lost their lucrative transport contracts with Mainfreight (taken by minimum wage Indian drivers) and high paying telecommunications jobs with Telecom which then became Chorus which contracted out the once highly paid telecom technician jobs (which all seem to have been taken over by immigrants who as the media have highlighted were working for slave wages) its been devestating for them, who is reporting on that?

who is reporting on that?

No one. That would be dismissed as xenophobic or Far Right.

Our media and even the commenters on this informative website are middle-class. There is nobody standing up for our working class whether native born or immigrant.

They maybe middle class but where do they come from, I come a state house and lived in caravans for a few years.

But the beauty about NZ its not where you come from its who you are, especially when you live in the country, there is no class system. In the city the class system comes from where you live like Otara or Remuera. But in the country you all live in the same area and go to the same school. If your good at sports and at school plus you make friends from all different backgrounds.