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Migration to Australia via New Zealand

This article explores the birthplace origins of New Zealand citizens who migrate to Australia. It aims to assess whether they use New Zealand as an indirect or ‘backdoor’ gateway into Australia (see Migration from New Zealand to Australia: an analysis by birthplace).

New Zealand citizens dominate the trans-Tasman flows of migrants, both westwards and eastwards. Migration flows between New Zealand and Australia have historically been numerous but volatile (see Kiwi exodus to Australia bungees back). Long-standing links, including open migration access, allow the largely unrestricted flow of New Zealand and Australian citizens between the two countries.

Overseas-born spike in 2001

A feature of the historical flows was the spike in departures of overseas-born New Zealand citizens in 2001 (figure 1). In the year ended June 2001, this amounted to an estimate of between 11,000 and 16,000 departures to Australia of overseas-born New Zealand citizens, depending on the data source (see Data sources at the end of this article). The consistency of the different New Zealand and Australian data supports the use of Stats NZ’s ‘permanent and long-term’ (PLT) series as a generally good indicator, as well as the most timely indicator, of migrant flows. Australian data is also presented here to capture the spike in departures in 2001.

Figure 1

Graph, Migrant departures from New Zealand to Australia, of NZ citizens born outside NZ and Australia, March 1996 to March 2017 quarters.

The rise and fall of the overseas-born flows around 2001 relates directly to Australian policy changes. In February 2001, Australia cut the access of newly arriving New Zealanders to welfare payments and curbed the pathway to Australian citizenship, unless they obtained a competitive and expensive permanent visa based on age and skills. New Zealanders were targeted because of the perceived welfare costs and high proportion of New Zealand citizen migrants born in countries other than New Zealand.

The more recent and smaller rises in the overseas-born flows in 2007–09 and 2011–13 reflect comparable rises in the total flows of New Zealand citizens in those years. In the year ended April 2017, 20,500 New Zealand citizens emigrated to Australia. Of these, 15,100 were born in New Zealand, 500 were born in Australia, and 4,900 were born in other countries. The overseas-born flow is slightly lower than the average annual flow during 2002–17 of 5,400.

Increasing proportion of overseas born

The proportion of New Zealand citizens migrating to Australia who are born overseas was about 1 in 4 in the year ended April 2017, although the Australian data indicates this proportion may be slightly higher (figure 2). Aside from the peaks in 1999–2001, the proportion was relatively consistent through the early 2000s, but has increased since 2011. The proportions are similar to the overall overseas-born share of New Zealand’s population: 18 percent in 1996, 19 percent in 2001, 23 percent in 2006, and 25 percent in 2013 (Census of Population and Dwellings). Moreover, the post-2001 proportions are similar to the proportion of overseas-born New Zealand citizens migrating to countries other than Australia.

Figure 2

Graph, Overseas-born proportion of NZ citizens migrant departures from NZ to Australia.

Two-thirds born in Asian and Pacific countries

One-third of all overseas-born New Zealand citizens migrating to Australia in 2016 were born in Asia and another one-third were born in Pacific countries (excluding New Zealand and Australia) (figure 3). Of the remaining one-third, half were born in Europe and half were born in other regions – Africa, Middle East, and the Americas. The proportions are similar in the New Zealand and Australian data.

Figure 3

Graph, Birthplace of overseas-born NZ citizen migrant arrivals into Australia, March 1996 to December 2016 quarters.

This birthplace distribution has changed over the last two decades. In 1996, Pacific birthplaces accounted for 39 percent, Europe 28 percent, Asia 28 percent, and other 5 percent. The peak in arrivals in 1999–2001 was largely driven by inflows of those born in Asia, in particular northeast Asia (including China).


Since the peaks in 1999–2001, New Zealand and Australian data indicate that overseas-born New Zealand citizens are not over-represented in the migrant flows to Australia. Migrants moving to Australia reflect the overall make-up of the New Zealand population, where the overseas-born share has been steadily increasing since the 1980s. In 2016, those born in Asia and the Pacific made up two-thirds of the overseas-born New Zealand citizens migrating to Australia.

Data sources

Three alternative data sources are presented here for completeness.

  1. Stats NZ’s PLT series includes country of birth between April 1978 and October 1987; and from July 2000, although country of birth data was significantly incomplete until 2001 when the new passenger cards were widely adopted. The PLT series is largely based on travelers’ self-reported length of intended stay in New Zealand, or time away from New Zealand. Generally, migrants are those intending to stay or be away for more than one year.
  2. Australian Bureau of Statistics’ Overseas Arrivals and Departures (OAD) series is equivalent to Stats NZ’s PLT series. It is largely based on travelers’ self-reported length of intended stay in Australia, or time away from Australia. For consistency of time series, the PLT series presented here includes New Zealand citizen arrivals where previous country of residence was New Zealand or unspecified. As a result, this may slightly overstate the PLT arrivals from New Zealand.
  3. Australian Bureau of Statistics’ Net Overseas Migration (NOM) series is a more accurate measure of the contribution of migration to Australia’s population, as it is derived from the actual travel histories of travelers rather than their stated intentions. It is equivalent to Stats NZ’s recently released ‘12/16 month’ migration estimates, which cover a similar time period but do not currently include country of birth.

Published 22 June 2017

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