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NZ migration hits new record in February year

20 Mar 15

New Zealand's migration hit a new record in the year through February, driven by more arrivals and fewer departures.

The country had a net gain of 55,100 migrants in the year through February, almost double the 29,000 gain in the year earlier period, Statistics New Zealand said. Migrant arrivals rose 16 percent to a record 112,600, while departures fell 15 percent to 57,500, the lowest level of departures since 56,700 in the November 2003 year, the agency said.

New Zealand annual migration has broken records for a seventh consecutive month as the nation's economic prospects look brighter than many other countries. That's helping stoke economic activity, pushing up demand for housing and cars while also reducing pressure on wage inflation by boosting the supply of labour.

The decline in migrant departures reflected fewer New Zealand citizens leaving for Australia, where the economic prospects are weaker following a slowdown in the mining industry. The country had a net loss of 2,600 people to Australia in the year through February, compared with a loss of 15,000 people in the year earlier period, the agency said. That's the smallest net loss to Australia since the March 1992 year when 2,300 more people left than arrived.

"Annual net immigration will approach a peak of 60,000 towards the end of the year and remain high into 2016," Westpac Banking Corp senior economist Felix Delbruck said in a note. "Net immigration has been supported by the combination of the job opportunities created by the Canterbury rebuild, and the dearth of opportunities in Australia. Neither of these drivers are about to turn.

"We do see the tide turning eventually from late 2016 - possibly quite sharply as the Canterbury rebuild winds down and Australian economic conditions recover. But for now, net immigration is boosting population growth, supporting buoyant retail activity, and adding to housing market pressures - all while alleviating labour shortages and helping keep inflation low."

The gain in migrant arrivals was driven by India, with a net gain of 11,800 people in the year through February, followed by 7,500 from China, 5,100 from the UK and 3,800 from the Philippines. Most migrants from India came on student visas, the agency said.

On a monthly basis, net immigration in February slowed to a seasonally adjusted 4,820 from 5,460 in January and below the average net gain for the last six months of 4,900.

"Monthly net migration seems to have reached a peak, but is likely to maintain a pace of roughly 5,000 for some time yet," said Westpac's Delbruck.

Separately, the number of short-term visitors to New Zealand rose 14 percent to a record 343,500 for a February month, as visitors from China jumped 96 percent. Chinese New Year, a popular time for travel, fell in February this year compared with January last year, which had driven the increase, the agency said.

On an annual basis, short-term visitors rose 5 percent to a record 2.9 million, led by increases in visitors from China, Australia and the US, the agency said.

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