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Big drops in migrant worker and overseas student numbers in New Zealand since COVID-related border restrictions were introduced in March

Big drops in migrant worker and overseas student numbers in New Zealand since COVID-related border restrictions were introduced in March

The number of migrants in New Zealand on work, student and recent residence*(see note below) visas has declined by almost 50,000 since the end of March.

According to the Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment, which tracks migrant numbers, there were 493,782 people in this country on work, student and recent residence* visas at the end of March, just after comprehensive border restrictions to combat the spread of COVID-19 were put in place.

But by the end of October their numbers had declined by 48,093 (-9.7%) to 445,689.

There were 25,068 fewer people in NZ on work visas at the end of November compared to the end of March, with their numbers dropping from 221,226 to 196,158 over that period (-11.3%).

Overseas student numbers declined by 15,432, from 81,948 at the end of March to 66,516 at the end of November (-18.8%).

There was a much smaller decrease in the number of people on recent residence* visas, with their numbers dropping by 7593 (-4.0%). (Refer table below for the full breakdown).

There were also significant changes within the work and student visa categories.

Between the end of March and the end of November, 7683 people on student visas left the country, 8457 people on student visas transferred to work visas, 2259 had their student visas replaced with residence visas and 31,308 had their student visas renewed.

Over the same period, 30,033 people on work visas left the country, 10,755 people on work visas transferred to residence visas, and 50,196 had their work visas renewed.

*Note: MBIE's numbers only record residence visas for up to five years. After that they are no longer counted in these statistics.

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dairy season,
horticulture harvest season,
tourism peak season,

What are biz owners going to do??


Move away from cheap labour, mass production business models


to where?

everyone on dole model?


So extremist, so is it either low quality jobs (neoliberalism) or everyone goes into social services (communism) according to your thinking?

There are more shades and we can achieve creating more high quality jobs, we have a lot of overqualified professionals who could be doing better and a better service to their country.

Anywhere other than mass producing low value products to export to China


The Aussie government is offering a $2k cash bonus to seasonal workers willing to work full-time picking fruits for 6 weeks.

Bearing in mind, Aussie farms pay more and the first $18.2k are untaxed, the fight for seasonal workers is about to get a lot worse.
I hope I brought enough popcorn for this!

To where Xing? To meeting the market and paying decent wages to New Zealanders

Exactly. Invest in productivity improving tech.


who invest?

and invest to whom?

very easy to say and no one move.

live in a dream and dream will not just come true.


IT is NZ's fastest growing industry sector. So whose dream are you referring to?

Where do you live again, Negativity Bot?

From a people perspective, the growth of ICT means we need more Chinese, Indian and Filipino migrants in this country.


Why can't we train our own? Genuine question


Because capitalism needs the unemployed in conjunction with high rates of immigration to create a "surplus" of human capital. Import people from countries with lower standards of living and voila businesses keep their wage bills down. It's supply and demand.


Let me get this straight - we're trying to address a productivity crunch in our wider economy that has resulted from our overreliance on cheaper migrant workers to produce bulk goods and services.
And the innovative solution for such issues is supposed to be generated by low-paid foreign workers hired by our ICT sector?

My comment wasn't the solution, it was the answer to "why we can't train our own".

The businesses who claim they're reliant on skilled migrant workers to operate machinery such as $800k Fully Automated GPS Navigated Combine Harvesters are the reason. The same will apply for any other industry looking to suppress wages.

For the agricultural contracting industry it is not wages that are the problem, it is the hours of work that make it almost unthinkable for 99% of Kiwis to do that kind of work.
I am an agricultural contractor now I love it, and big hours don’t phase me. But it is hard on my family when I don’t get to see them.
Pay around here is $25-$30 an hour and hours are comfortably over 100 hours a week so there is good money to be made, but you have to be the right person to do this work. The level of computer and technology skills required plus regular heavy lifting put it out of reach of many people, plus be able to pass a drug test, be trustworthy enough to be handed the keys to $1 million of equipment and sent out to the field and not break anything, all while working a schedule that can see staff working days without sleep. Making it more of a shift work job is not easy either, obviously then you need even more staff and rotating drivers is not a simple job when your machinery are spread across hundreds of kilometres at any given time.

Sure, growing the local talents is crucial, but it takes time to bring up someone. Organisations don't have the luxury to wait in the meantime. China, India and the Philippines are the ICT hub in APAC, a lot of people have experience with large-scale ICT projects. They are good-doers who can deliver. Also, don't assume they are always cheap. Genuine answer.

The biggest issue some of our tech employers face is tapping into those markets for talent already in high demand. We neither have high-ranked universities to attract the best minds for study and research (our 'export education' doesn't even aspire to it) nor do our companies have the network to poach that talent directly from those markets like corporations in North America and Europe with large presence in those markets do.

I work in the ICT sector. Yes, agree we need some skills from elsewhere in the world, but we do need to train more people here. But I don't entirely agree on the "good-doers who can deliver" part. I've worked with legends AND idiots of all backgrounds, creeds and nationalities. That goes for NZers too, in case you think I'm being unfair.

A peeve of mine is when I see overqualified temporary visa holders on service desks; jobs which can otherwise serve as good training ground for local talent.

I am sure you also come across a lot of older Kiwis with non-IT qualifications who trace their beginnings in the industry at such support roles.

IMO IT should be a main part of the school curriculum

The NZ education ministry could learn from its Namibian counterpart on how to act on this.

You’re in luck then, as of this year it is.

Only 30 years too late

We are one of the countries where people are most overqualified for the jobs they perform, so the talent is already there, no time required to form people.

Because if you have bills to pay, it's too risky to retrain.
Upfront costs, months or years without your salary, and no guarantee of a job at the end of it.
There are heaps of people working in dying industries (eg international education) who could be retrained in IT, but they won't unless there's some kind of safety net.

We can and we do. Education is cheap in NZ. Anyone saying we need to import people for this is a bit silly. Though points around businesses preferring high skilled immigration due to it keeping wage bills down is of course correct.

I'm currently prepping for a job interview with a certain foreign government in trade analysis. While prepping and searching for interview questions, feedback etc... I came across the exact same role in India requiring the same level of qualifications. The pay in Wellington? $85k NZD. The pay in New Delhi? $15k NZD.

Of course NZ is more expensive but I can imagine applicants from India trying to get the job in Wellington would happily do it for $55 - $60k NZD. After all, why wouldn't you? You could save that whole $15k NZD per year and send it home...

WE do - then they go overseas where they can earn a decent wage.

I can see the sense in employing experienced well paid English speaking Indian computer programmers - programming is an art not a science so you cannot instantly solve shortages by training Kiwis - given the right incentives (even more pay) it may be possible but would take years.
Where is the sense in employing foreigners for jobs that merely require determination: fruit pickers, care-givers, baristas, bus driver. All it does is import low wages into NZ. OK it may be good for both our elite (academics, politicians and journalists) and the middle class retired folk such as myself - I enjoy eating tomatoes bought at 2.89 a kilo but it is not good for ordinary working class Kiwis (at least half our population) and therefore it is bad for the country. The logical conclusion to this demand for ever cheaper workers is re-introduce slavery.

No money for that sorry! Dysfunctional housing market + mass immigration model + tax advantage of property = all the investment goes there!

If you would like to receive funding for your productivity improving tech I suggest you start a company and list on the ASX or NYSE.

Oh and don't forget to move your headquarters (and the high paying, high skilled jobs with them) there as well. And therein lies the problem of NZ's policy settings perpetuating high living costs and low productivity growth :(

Easy to say, but these are commodities where people need to keep costs down. Maybe NZ needs to make better use of people. eg Prisoners' aren't doing anything productive. May people on the dole who could work, maybe we need incentives so if they do try to do some work they aren't penalized with deductions?

Studies into the NZ correction system have found that poverty and unemployability are often the reason for prisoner reoffending.

We could train 100 people to drive trucks for the cost of imprisoning one person, and every $ spent on the training would bring $3.26 in economic returns.


There's no such thing as a labour shortage in a free market. Pay more and people will do the work.


Exactly. Someone has said this on this site before. There's no shit jobs, just shit wages (and high housing costs). Double whammy.


Very astute comment. Hard seasonal work that may require temporary accommodation & paying how much? Fresh produce is not exactly cheap so where are the profits - growers, the supermarkets? Let the labour market clear at a market wage and be damned with the supermarkets!! #nocheapforeignlabour.

I know for a fact that supermarkets are running high margins on fruit and veg and they absolutely screw the growers down (insert low wages here). I believe the comcom are beginning a 12 month investigation into the supermarket duopoly, looking at the entire logistical chain.


Yes I saw that. So the hypothesis here is that we are importing cheap labour to avoid paying a living wage to locals so as the supermarkets extract excess margins. The supermarkets are the winner and we need to disintermediate them asap.

If you have ever been to rural France, their local produce markets are incredible.

Most watchdog reports suggest that NZ consumers are less likely to shop around and take advantage of market competition and efficiencies even when one exists (this was found more so in the case of power retailers, banking & insurance as well as telecom providers).
In case of perishables, we could always buy from green grocers, local markets and butchers most Kiwis don't understand how those small decisions on a collective basis can make a huge impact.

And ensure the alternative to working is unattractive enough to discourage long-term unemployment as a lifestyle choice.

How isn’t it though?

If that was the case, then everyone would be buying NZ made stuff, like clothes etc. But they cost more in NZ, because labour is higher. That cost has to be passed onto the buyer. If noone buys them as a result, then there is no business. We can't offshore fruit picking, unless they are also grown in those countries where labour is cheap.

The problem is people don't want to do short term work. Even with good wages and housing people are still unwilling....

All the arguments keep pointing to wages -- NZ has one of the highest minimum wages in the World --- the issue is our living costs are also ridiculously high -- notably housing and food - rents are way above even places like London when measured against minimum wage -- and its still cheaper to buy NZ lamb in Europe than it is here! - There is growing discontent though -- that we are trying to import workers to pick fruit and work in vineyards at teh same time as we have increasing numbers of unemployed -- this will polarize opinion and further widen the have and have not divide -- but on what side will the Nurses / Teachers / Healthcare workers / drivers fall - ? addressing the huge rental costs would certainly make a big difference to the balance of wages/costs

Second, the next part of this picture worth looking at. Net in/outflow of NZ citizens. March - September there has been a net inflow of 12,834 NZ citizens. Stats data on this doesn't have October yet. Recent months are running at ~1,500 per month. If you assume October is approximately the same that brings our total to -33,759.

Of course there are also Tourist visas and long term permanent residents not counted here.

MBIE counts long-term permanent residents (those on residence visas for more than 5 years) as NZ citizens to make things easier.

Ah gotcha, this is the dataset I used.

It looks like Stats migration data separates out NZ citizens and Permanent Residents.

Is this the bit where we talk about the OE returnees with half a million squids in their sky rockets and the housing market ?

Sure why not. I mean it's a bunch of BS tbh. I can see them leaving Europe and the USA temporarily and running back once it's cleared up as the wages vs cost equation is not comparable, particularly if you're highly skilled.

The one thing missing from the 'expats incoming' yarn being spouted by the real estate industry is that ~70% of them are in Australia and why would they leave? The virus is practically cleared up, wages are higher, groceries are cheaper, you're close enough to home for the odd trip to visit family and for some utterly absurd reason Auckland's property is now more expensive than both Sydney and Melbourne! The one thing to watch out for of course is China twisting the screws in further..


782 rentals available on the North Shore alone...I don't think it's a housing shortage we have, but a tenant shortage.

Yeah and the reserve bank and government blame housing supply as the cause for high house prices.

Well what else would they blame? Themselves?

The majority of the North Shore listings are extremely low quality at an extremely high price. I think the tenants are there, they're just fighting over anything that's some what decent.

Not sure what you mean by extremely high price, but there is a lot to choose from around $700pw in pretty good locations (East Coast Bays).

I guess you're right, you can get a stunner like this

Weird how all the bedrooms seem to have a second wall behind the bed. A unique way to “fix” a leaker?

Haha what is going on there - get your buckets ready!

I hope that's not true. But... it could be.

2 bedroom $700p/w has 2k views already! - one of the very few that are well presented.

TradeMe views don't mean much. The one we're renting now had 1k+ views when we first took a look. There was just one other person at the viewing. 2br in Campbells Bay, advertised for $640pw, negotiated down to $600pw.

thats interesting because September last year there were only 612.

Starting to creep up. It was at 650 not so long ago. Could be the season though combined with renters becoming first home buyers?

Lot of rentals popping up in my area too. Also factor in the number of ghost homes. Most people don't want to rent, they want to buy.

Has there been any analysis of home many empty homes there are in NZ?

I would have thought this was the first thing they should be doing.

How many of those are ex-AirBnB, I wonder?

Interesting: yesterday Interest told us pop had gone up to 5.1m
We are told today that migrant numbers fell 48,000
Consents are up about 18,000 in last year.
We continue to be told that Auckland in particular has a housing shortage.
perhaps someone could calculate how many extra accommodation units or houses are needed in Auckland re pop increase over last 7 years, v how many were provided.

Personally I do not agree that Auckland has a housing shortage (to buy)
It has a shortage of stuff under $850k to buy and a shortage of rented decent 3 bed property for families.


No housing shortage....just a leadership brain shortage in NZ.

exactly, it is shown all over the world that the only output that the western democracy is able to produce is an incompetent political leadership with a very small and shallow brain but a very big mouth.



"with a very small and shallow brain but a very big mouth". I doubt if you do irony, so just to be clear, that fits you perfectly. I am amazed that you remain here in this miserable little country when surely, political paradise awaits you back in China.


Thanks for demonstrating to us what a small and shallow brain but a very big mouth. exactly looks like.

??????????? and the alternative, what would that be ? ????????

Firing squad for those who create "quarrels"

And "donate" the body parts

Some truth in that i'd agree, our system needs a tweek. Extend the term to 4 years. Reduce the parliamentary term to 2 election cycles, hereby ridding us of those who choose it as a career choice whose man priority is re-election.

Which would pretty much only make it possible for those at the end of working careers in a position to enter politics. No thanks

Clearly still better than the alternative.

Western democracy has many faults. For example Hitler was elected. However after a couple of millenia letting China invent everything Western democracy in the last 200 years did mange some positive output. Railways, Motor vehicles, Air travel, public vaccination programs, universal education, abolition of slavery, computers, films, TV, Jazz, etc.
Maybe it is an ever changing set of democratically elected leaders however incompetant, small brained and loud mouth that permits the free expression of new ideas.

It has a shortage of stuff under $850k to buy and a shortage of rented decent 3 bed property for families

Sums it all up perfectly. Availability of cheap credit and removal of LVRs has brought these high-priced properties within the borrowing limits of median households.

It wouldn't be a smart business move for developers to build cheaper houses in a high risk environment for lower margins when our central bank is ensuring there is plenty of appetite for expensive homes around the country.

These people are getting into huge amounts of debt, especially FHBs, as a direct result of this housing disaster. Many of these houses are in pretty poor condition too and need a lot of money spending on them.

I wonder how long before we will be doing 110% mortgages, where you also get money for doing the house up?.

And what happen when interest rates rise? It is a bit like these big online companies offering free online services to get people hooked, and then when they are, they introduce charging. So people are then stuck paying for a service, that they may not have previously have wanted. So some of these house buyers are going to end up paying extra interest they didn't want or maybe expect, and may not be able to afford.

The Universities & Tertiary providers are now offering online courses to international students living outside of NZ. Some debate over their eligibility for post-study work visas depending on future border openings.


Can they work at the local bottle shop online too?

LOL, well said that person

Is this true MB? Good lord, what a joke.

I can confirm that is true, I am currently on a project with a University in Australia.
Don't discount the idea of online study though, almost all universities in Australia are now offering online study and the technology they are using is incredible. We did a survey and our students (both local and overseas) are finding online study is more conducive than attending actual lectures. The only limitation right now is practical lab works for some courses and they are working on some alternative solutions for that.

If only our local universities could get out of the notion that students must be on campus and during business hours to study. Great if you're a school leaver, harder if you're trying to retrain or develop knowledge without leaving the workforce.

So true I recently retrained and class schedules were shocking. Lectures were spaced apart at funny times. Would have been impossible to hold a full time job. As for online this opens up international competition. Coursea have some awesome courses from some big unis.

Yes, there's definitely blueprints there to follow - the Coursea options are interesting but if you aspire to a job governed by local professional body, you're locked into the undergrad grind (and competitive entry in some cases as well).

I lecture part time at the university of Auckland and the majority view of students seems to be a preference for face to face classes.
I think it does vary according to subject matter.

Of course the students prefer face to face study. The whole purpose of studying in NZ is to also work here for the higher wages and possibly a path to residency. They could not care less about your worthless BA or business degree.

85% of my classes are kiwi students so the strong stated preference across most of the class has little to do with migrant status.
Most of the students simply find it more engaging. A number of them also say it's easier for them to concentrate.

You must have a very good looking face. ; )

Architecture students like good looking aesthetics :)

I'm not anti online courses CM (though I do believe it is an inferior experience to being in a lecture), just that we have to offer up a work visa to get someone to hand over the course fees.

Education will eventually become a free commodity, just like music and much software.
Who needs to pay to be educated when you have this amazing resource -

Our institutions, except a couple of universities, might not even hit 5% of their pre-COVID international enrolment numbers without offering post-study working rights.

Here are the industry's demands voiced by their representing body, antinomically called Quality Tertiary Institutions -

One huge issue universities are facing now is how to structure their fees if online teaching is the way to go for next year or the years to come if they aren't allowed into the country. Overseas students indicated that they are being ripped off on full tuition fees while only get online courses.

Returning Kiwis and PR holders may invest in houses, find it difficult to get well paid jobs, won't contribute to fill the workers gap in the required field, may go on government assistance for some time. If Covid disappears next year and more migrant and students come in, the economy may benefit and they may rent houses, subsidise the Kiwis/PR holders who returned. Really a weird, whacky scene, this.
Time for the Government and Business to have a 5 years strategy to change the New Zealand workscape and think about new types of employment development in new fields or more lucrative fields. Are we up to it ?


The changes in migrant population stats are a good start. Interesting to see 8457 highly skilled students were able to change to work visas while unemployment remains high. Probably about 8400 too many.
Let's aim for a 50%+ drop in all 3 categories by Oct 2021. We can always dream.

That target reduction cannot be achieved without changes to our immigration settings. NZ is particularly popular among international students for being an easy country to permanently migrate to through the education pathway.
70 out of 160 points for a masters qualification in anything, another 50 for a job offer and 30 for being under the age of 35 - what a joke!

Be it export education or tourism, businesses and government in NZ scrape the bottom of the barrel instead of catering to the premium market.

There were some positive noises on that front re: tourism today from the new minister.

Migration is cyclic. If we compare work visas as at October 2019 (203,115) vs October 2020 (196,158) its only 3.4% lower.

It's official & proven, migration has got nothing to do with the rise of housing cost in NZ. It's just that 'supply and demand' as PM said - As more and more Kiwis with good salary/wages, actually can afford to be the FHB, govt even plan right now to have FHB assistance. World soon will follow NZ lead here, well done all 5mill team.

Even if migration had nothing to do with increasing house prices (which is a stretch), do our insane immigration policies also have nothing to do with pollution, water shortages and unemployment not to mention untold social problems. And all for the lure of (possible) financial benefits. We need to look at places like Belgium, France, Sweden etc to see where mass immigration will lead. A few more years and it will be too late. We need to act now.