February 15, 2019

Population higher than estimated

Cumulative net migration between January 2001 and October 2018 was 24,000 higher than estimated.

The release of new net migration data in January 2019 by Statistics New Zealand using their new migration estimates, saw estimates in November 2018 for annual net migration 20,000 lower than initially thought. In addition the new migration data showed that New Zealand net migration peaked in mid-2016 at 64,000, not 72,500 in 2017, and that over the last few years net migration has been running lower than estimated under the old intentions measure.

Given the 20,000 difference in the estimate for annual net migration in November 2018, naturally there has been some discussion around the implications of this much lower estimate. These discussions have focussed on the most recent data, which showed that between October 2016 and October 2018 the outcomes measure counted 32,000 less permanent migrates than the intentions measure. But this focus on the short term trends misses what we can also learn from examining the long term trends. The figure below shows the annual net migration for New Zealand using both the outcomes and intentions measures.

The figure shows that prior to the end of 2009 the previous intentions measure under estimated net migration, and has since the start of 2010 over estimated net migration. Since the start of 2016 there was a widening gap between the two measures, showing that under the new outcomes measure, New Zealand’s high net migration has dropped off much more quickly than was being shown using the intentions measure.

The figure below shows the cumulative difference between the outcome measure and the intentions measure of net migration between January 2001 (the farthest the outcomes measure goes back) and October 2018 (when the intentions measure ceased). This figure shows that under the new outcomes measure between January 2001 and April 2009 New Zealand had 90,000 more permanent migrates than previously counted.

Since mid-2009 the outcomes measure had lower net migration than the intentions measure and we can see the cumulative difference start to slowly decrease. That decrease picked up pace in mid-2016 and by October 2018 the cumulative difference in net migration was just 24,000 higher, according to the outcomes measure, than the intentions measure.

So yes, the new outcomes measure has shown that in the last two years actual net permanent migration in New Zealand may have been lower than first thought. However, if you look over the last 18 years the new outcomes measure shows that net permanent migration in New Zealand is 24,000 above where it was thought to be.