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A Migration Study

Migration figures are bandied about during election campaigns with little understanding by media commentators of what they mean. Politicians know there is a wide range of figures to choose from and they trade on this ignorance by selectively picking which ones give the populist emotional response they seek on any particular day.

There are two different figures – Net Permanent Migration (NPM) and Net Overseas Migration (NOM). If there is to be any rational political debate about public policy on long term population level then NPM should be the basis of this. This figure is the outcome of Government policy for how many permanent resident visas are granted plus the number of our New Zealand cousins who move here each year. Financial Demographics uses NPM figures for migration.

Government “policy” for family and skill based migration targets were 158,800 for 2007-08 and 171,800 for 2008-09. Actual outcomes have been close to these figures. These exclude “Humanitarian” residency grants which were 11,729 in 2008-09 and 14,854 for 2008-09. Then there needs to be added New Zealander movement (not restricted by government policy and averaging between 20,000 and 30,000pa) and a small exceptional category of about 1,000. The final step is to deduct permanent departures of residents which are about 70,000 to 80,000pa. After all this, Net Permanent Migration comes to 129,017 for 2007-08 and 143,601 for 2008-09.

The other figure which politicians like to quote is the NOM figure which is the net effect of overseas travellers and temporary visa holders who declare they are settlers of visitors expecting to stay for a period of extending beyond 12 months. These statistics have been very unreliable at times in the past. Firstly, around the time of the Sydney Olympics, collection processes couldn’t cope and there were discontinuities. Secondly the design of travel cards did not ask the right question to determine stay intentions unambiguously. Finally a big effect on these figures recently has been student visas. With student visas running at about 200,000pa it is no wonder the NOM figures are much bigger that NPM (for 2008-09 NOM is 336,130 versus the 143,601 for NPM). However a reasonable current political question to ask is whether the government will be able to tell the overseas students they have to go back home after they graduate, given the 100,000pa increase in their numbers over the past four years and their $13bn contribution to GDP.

Posted Tuesday, 3 August 2010

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