Immigration and all that

Vincent Heeringa, writing in Idealog, has an interesting look at why New Zealand does not have a strong anti-immigration strain to its politics. Tldr: immigration is very important economically and we don’t have significant refugee flows.


It is certainly true that immigration is economically important. Migration (flows out and in) has added 30 per cent to the population since 1991. That is a lot of new workers and consumers.

Here is the Treasury from the May Economic and Fiscal Update (page 4):

Screenshot 2016-07-12 10.37.53

Migration grows the economy (the real GDP bit). But it isn’t all sunshine and lollipops. The Treasury says migration is expanding activity in low productivity sectors (all those new people need housing and restaurants), which means we are not as well off as we could be if they all worked in high-tech or our construction sector was more productive.


I am less certain than Mr Heeringa that the economics of immigration drives the politics of it particularly. (People vote against their apparent economic interests all the time: see Brexit, and What’s the Matter with Kansas).

It might just be that New Zealanders are more positive about immigration.

This is a chart from a 2008 paper by Colleen Ward and Anne-Marie Masgoret, based on survey results in New Zealand and internationally. The proposition people were put was: “It is a good thing for a society to be made up of people from different races, religions and cultures”.

div positivity  copy

Here is some other data from that paper, reported in a 2011 Department of Labour paper by the same authors plus Melanie Vauclair. Some results from a survey in 2004/05 of attitudes towards immigrants and immigration:

Screenshot 2016-07-12 10.52.21

Neilsen, in its 2014 Quality of Life Survey, report results from six regional councils on perceptions of the impacts of greater cultural diversity. Fifty seven per cent of people asked said that greater cultural diversity makes their area a better or much better place to live. Fourteen percent thought greater cultural diversity made their area a worse or much worse place to live.

Screenshot 2016-07-12 11.08.39



On the numbers themselves, these are 12 month rolling totals of monthly net permanent and long-term migration to/from Australia since April 1978. You can see what looks like the start of the turn of the tide. Maybe folks in Australia are going to stop coming home in such large numbers, or a few more people from here are going to pick up sticks. The Treasury forecasts that net migration will return to its usual trend by 2018.

net plt tofrom australia

The data is here.


At the Moxie Sessions we have talked about immigration a couple of times. Once in Session 10 on the immigration system itself and whether have the settings right, and once more last year in Session 33 on immigration as a way to transform the economy (slowly). Heady stuff.

Also there is a recent book on the subject.