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Closing the borders has not led to big reductions in the number of overseas workers and foreign students in this country with a lack of new arrivals almost matched by a lack of departures

Closing the borders has not led to big reductions in the number of overseas workers and foreign students in this country with a lack of new arrivals almost matched by a lack of departures

The latest immigration figures suggest that border restrictions during the COVID pandemic have so far only caused a relatively slight reduction in the numbers of people in this country on work or student visas.

Although the border restrictions brought the number of people entering the country on work or student visas to a virtual standstill from April last year onwards, there was an equally large decline in the number of people leaving the country who had been here on work or student visas.

It appears that most of them who were still here in April decided to remain and that has kept the total numbers residing (at least temporarily) in this country, relatively high.

The Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment tracks the number of people in this country both work and student visas, as well as arrivals and departures, and these numbers  generally follow fairly reliable seasonal trends, with peaks and troughs falling around the same time each year.

The number of people on work visas generally peaks in March then declines slowly until July, before rising steadily to another peak in November.

There is usually a sharp drop in numbers in December before they start rising again to the March peak and the cycle repeats.

These trends are obvious in the chart below, which tracks the number of people in the country on work or student visas at the end of each month.

But of course the trend was different last year.

The number of people on work visas peaked in March as usual, at 221,256, and then began a slow decline, also as usual.

But instead of bottoming out in July and then starting to rise again through to the end of the year, numbers kept declining steadily throughout the year.

However the decline was not large.

At the end of December there were still 193,413 people on work visas in this country, down by 27,843 (-12.6%) compared to the March 2020 peak, which was a record high, but down by just 3174 (-1.6%) compared to December 2019.

The number of people in the country on student visas also usually follows a reliable seasonal trend, with numbers peaking in February, then remaining relatively stable until October before dropping away in November and December then climbing back up to peak again in February.

Last year student numbers peaked in February as usual, at 82,911, slightly below the February 2019 record of 83,571.

But instead of remaining fairly stable until October, they began a slow decline, with numbers steadily dropping away to finish the year at 62,200.

Although that seems like a significant decline from the February peak, it was still above the December 2019 figure 58,383.

So although fewer overseas students arrived in this country last year, there were also fewer departing, and at the end of last year there were 3837 more overseas students in the country than there were at the end of 2019.

Those numbers suggest that the economic impact of closing the border to foreign workers and students is likely to have been minimal, and is likely to remain so unless there is a significant increase in the numbers of those already here deciding to depart these shores.

The high numbers of people on work and student visas deciding to remain in this country during the pandemic could also be one reason why our domestic economy performed better than expected last year.

As for what happens this year, we will have to wait and see.

The comment stream on this story is now closed.

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It would sure help bring rents down if all 200k left the country.

It’d help bring the economy down too


Moving up from 100k temporary workers in 2013 to 220k in 2020 - and we wonder why there is pressure on housing. Time to get a grip on population control to align it with infrastructure constraints.

Even if covid 19 is under control by next year, what is the likelihood that people have a lot of spare cash to travel to NZ and go on holiday?

There will be huge competition for attracting tourists!

Cash? Just take out another loan or credit card. Everything will be sweet - buy now, worry later society.

Plenty of evidence that lockdowns are leading to increased savings. Many of my family and friends in Europe who have expensive foreign holidays once every 3 years will be cashed up and ready to travel once it is safe to do so.

Hulk Hogan - the Ultimate Warrior here from the beyond.. asking you about the housing cost pressure/affordability as oppose by just saying.. supply.
Dare to elaborate the number of ... empty houses nationwide?

Hi Pusheen - I hark back to the days of the Royal Rumble, so simple. There are of course multiple factors at play in limiting housing availability other than supply & it aggrieves me to think of the many thousands of empty houses nationally.
But not mentioned here also is the huge role of temporary workers to support the agricultural and horticultural industries - as our exports have grown and typical Kiwi's resist ''real'' work its the Pacific Islanders to pick fruit or Philippine workers to milk cows who have enabled growth in these sectors. Ultimately I believe its the fault of the out of control volumes of ''investors'' who are driving the shortage of housing and distorting the market. As long as gains are mostly untaxed, interest rates are low, the banks keen to fill their boots and Labour distracting us with Covid control whilst doing nothing to address the housing (or any?) issue - the problem will only get worse.


Nearly 200K foreigners on work visas when our unemployment is 5%+ not to mention the massive underemployment. Doesn't seem very caring or sensible to me. And of course if they were not here that would be at least 50 000 extra homes available for Kiwis who badly need them. There should never be a need for more than 20 000 foreign workers to be in NZ at any time and even that number is extreme.
We started to lose control of our immigration policies and settings in the 80s and not coincidentally house price inflation and excessive rents have been out of control (and destroying our culture of inclusivity) in tandem with the unnecessary demand we have allowed to occur. Time to be kind to struggling Kiwis rather than callously placing foreign workers and immigrants before our own people. This has to stop.


It seems the number of work visas has DOUBLED in the last five years. So if that rate of increase continues we can expect to have over 400 000 foreigners working here by 2025 and nearly ONE MILLION foreigners working here by 2030. Does that sound like what is best for our country?

That extrapolation is nonsense. That's not to say that I'm arguing for any increases.

I know (was tongue in cheek) but we could easily have 300K or even 400K by 2030 and that should be scary enough for a country that already has serious housing issues.

In context there is over 600,000 New Zealanders working overseas so the 400,000 working here doesnt sound as scary.


600 000 as a percentage of 7 billion is a little less than 400 000 as a percentage of 5M. If it doesn't sound scary I presume you own your home and do not work in an industry that is infested with (un)essential (un)skilled foreign workers such as liquor retail or hospitality.

That should be 400k as a fraction of the working Kiwis (say 5m minues that 400k and then half to allow for pensioners and kids = 2.2m so the % of workers on a work visa would be ~18%. Are the 400K work-visa inclusive of residency and permanent residency visas?
If those work visas were evenly spread by location, by age, by industry and by counry of origin it would be little to worry about.

18% is somthing to worry about, spread around or not.


Perhaps a large number of the 193,413 people on work visas believe they’re on the pathway to residency and ultimately citizenship – in which case they're never going to go until that’s achieved.

So in the absence of a more sensible policy we are stuck with them.

The government simply will not address this never ending immigration nonsense.

We could, of course, change our policy. If they are not yet residents we can certainly change tack. But I think you are right. There are (silly) reasons why it will probably not change.

Agreed - you can be for more immigration or less, for varying current restrictions by language, by age, by health, by criminal record, by marriage custom, etc however the one eternal certainty is no public political debate leading to an agreed and enforced policy.

You may need to simply check the two last census figure.. what changes in NZ? yet there's a massive changes of Asians ethnicity/third largest by magnitude of 300-400.000 populations between the last two census (while National at the helm), by standard it's equivalent to entire population of Wellington/Hamilton? around early 90's or that oil rich nation of Brunei, But you must understand. That's the only way to keep the Ponzi GDP running, people movement in=capital movement in, usually buying the RE. - I'm sure you don't wanna send big chunk of $ to NZ for study/visit.. but unable to travel there. Now, what we have here.. during C19? is that, where to next? - hence the current band aid by RBNZ & govt raft of.. patching the leaks.

Yes very true.
Gov are back to printing out resident approval's at around 3,000 a month. It was around 6,000 per month just before COVID hit and slowed it down.
Data on mbienz website.
The declined trend has dropped also. The decline trend start dropping from 2017.

"Gov are back to printing out resident approval's at around 3,000 a month".

What a coincidence - total number of people on work visa Nov 20th 193,413 – Dec 20th 190,317 = monthly decline of 3,096.

On the whole those on work visas are not going to leave – and the so-called decline – basically work visas morphing into resident visas, then ultimately citizenship.

Congratulations, another fantastic job done courtesy NZ Immigration policy.

Complete unstoppable madness.


So why then, all those voices on tele complaining lack of low wages workers to do this and that? - Hell, I just read recently that we're still proud to be the sailing nation etc. - then oddly, still imported Russian sailors to do the job. - OR how about this? the Welly water sewage saga commission from WW, but NZ have to bring 4-5 sewage engineer from Germany during lock down? - impressive, NZ.


For a small island nation, our business sector seems to be extremely reluctant to recruit entry-level workers and train them for a job.

No employer would choose to spend a penny on training locals when the system allows them to recruit pre-trained migrants on lower wages instead.

Often not pre-trained but sometimes cheaper and most significantly more docile. Low paid immigration is a perfect recipe for exploitation.

It has been this way for a very long time. I have no sympathy for these types of business who have not assisted in training new entrants.

I've been wondering about this.

Would an immigration dependent economy be able to counter closed borders with a push to convert the temp workers to citizens? What country are the students from mostly? Anyone know?

JOhno...I honestly do not care where they are from. We need to basically do the opposite of what you are suggesting ie inform work visa holders that at the time they received their work visa there was a pathway to residency option attached. The vast majority should be formally advised that as situations change our regulations and procedures must change to best fit the current situation and to provide the best environment possible for our citizens. They should be told that for most work visa holders there is now no extension available and no pathway to residency option. I feel we need to do this politely and with empathy, apologising for any inconvenience caused through the changes.

At home we have two 18 year old stranded students. They were attending college in Palmerston North and have been trying to return to their PI homes since school finished. There parents are worried about them - thank heavens for modern mobile phone communications. Incidentally one has been offered Auckland Uni entrance but is applying to study in Taiwan and Shanghai - the reputation of some foreign universities is going up and ours are not.

The idea that immigration is a major cause of house price appreciation is nothing but a perpetuated myth. It's proponents are likely to be suffering from xenophobic virus with a good dose of racist complication.

Using the number of working visa holders in the country to justify that they caused appreciating house price is as good as suggesting upsizing your underwear will increase the size of your family jewels.

Look at the chart my beautiful secretary made for me together with my afternoon tea. Even a year 12 could tell you house price isn't dependent on immigration.

To date, no one is coming out of the woods from the viral camp explaining to me the inverse relationship between falling net migration and sustained increase in median house price.

Don't try the excuse that it takes time as you will just shoot yourself in the foot by saying, "immigration is NOT a major factor in house price appreciation."

Until there is scientific causal proof, the claim that the increase in net migration also causes the increase in median house prices are nothing more than geocentrism and flat earth theory.

If 'net migration' included Kiwis moving from zombie towns and depopulating rural areas then there ought to be a link. Not an especially strong link since banks lending policies and interest rates would be more significant. If houses were built as fast as they were in the past then the linkage between demand and supply might work.
I live on Auckland's North Shore and quality of life has dropped as population has boomed (much of it immigration and that includes my family). maybe if I had lived in Dargaville for the last two decades then I'd have a different attitude to NZ's world leading rate of legal immigration - not as per your 4 years graph but the last 70 years.

Can your beautiful secretary make you a chart covering the last 30 years? Oh and add bank lending too!

His beautiful secretary might even be a perfect 10. Five on his left hand and five on his right. LOL

You seriously think that if the quarter of the population not born here never moved here that property prices would still be what they are today?

CWBW It is highly likely that you are suffering from the oikophobia virus. When half a million net migrants have entered the country over the last decade, only a fool would argue that net migration has had no effect on house prices. Two thirds of the population growth in the last 10 years has been net migration. Your secretary should stick to secretarial work if she/he is claiming that her/his chart proves there is no link between net migration and house prices. First there is the timing/lag effect and secondly there is the impact of interest rates which also affects house prices. Interest rates have not been constant over the period. are clearly a troll and I really feel I am lowering myself by even responding. Even you would know the basic law of supply and demand and how worthless a three year comparison is. Post a 70 year graph comparing prices to migration and throw rents into the graph as well. We are looking forward to seeing it so NO EXCUSES. If you failed to do so the readers would naturally question the size (or more aptly, the value) of your family jewels. I presume you have a personal vested interest in NZ maintaining immigration settings that mean an extra 100 000 foreigners need a home here every year. Clearly you are only concerned with yourself and not NZers as a whole.
Just in case you are confused I will break it down for you as simply as I can. Most working visa holders come here from 3rd world countries and have very little money so they rent. Obviously rents will rise (refer to your own graph posted tomorrow). Many of them end up as very hard working residents, working many hours a week, spending very little until after several years of savings get into the property market and guess what? The increase in demand increases the amount of money the suppliers can obtain for their product. Clear enuff?

Depends on how you read your own Graph

Hope covid is over soon.