Immigration – Will New Zealand reduce its numbers?

Keyboard with return key in the shape of New Zealand.(series)
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Special Counsel

Both Australia and the United Kingdom (UK) have this week announced intentions to significantly reduce their net migration. 

The UK has indicated that it would increase the salary threshold for skilled workers to GBP38,700.  It also announced that care workers will no longer be permitted to bring dependent family members to the UK.  Further, the UK is making it much harder for its citizens and residents to sponsor their partners.

Australia’s newly announced immigration strategy aims to boost productivity and, amongst other things, slash migrant numbers at a time of “record high immigration post-pandemic”.  Of course, the overall numbers are reduced given there was almost no migration in 2020 and 2021.  However, Australia intends to tighten visa rules for international students by introducing higher English language requirements, and increased scrutiny on second student visa applications.

Whilst these announcements may make New Zealand more appealing for potential migrants, Prime Minister Christopher Luxon also announced on 11 December that New Zealand’s net migration gain of 118,000 in a year is unsustainable.  This was followed up with a further announcement on 12 December 2023 that net migration in the year to October 2023 was 128,900.

So, what may this mean for New Zealand as we approach the New Year?

Why is New Zealand’s net immigration over the last year so high?

  • Many migrants entering New Zealand since the border was reopened are those coming to fill vacancies New Zealand employers were unable to fill during the border closure.
  • Under the 2021 Residence Category, a one-off residence category, 103,419 applications were approved. 
  • The number of people issued visas, including family members, under this category reached 211,181. 

What is the Government’s aim?

Prime Minister Luxon announced that any New Zealand immigration must be linked to skill shortages, and New Zealand’s economic agenda.  He also indicated that the Government would ensure that they get the settings right, and that they will work with Immigration New Zealand to make sure there are audits and checks to manage migrant numbers.

What may this mean for New Zealand’s immigration policies?

From the announcement yesterday, it seems we are likely to see tweaks to New Zealand’s existing temporary visa policies. This may include making the requirements more stringent, or applying existing requirements more stringently, to reduce migration.  

Whilst the Government may tweak the polices around work visas, it will be interesting to see if they also tweak the policy around attracting international students.  With some tertiary institutions having to reduce staff numbers, there is a desire for the Government to help attract students, particularly now that Australia will not be so welcoming.

The Minister of Immigration, Erica Stanford indicated on 12 December that caps on those securing residence in New Zealand had been removed.  She is seeking advice on what caps can be put on around residence in New Zealand. It will be interesting to see if the Government also looks at the Family (Parent) category and makes changes to the requirements under that residence pathway, such as the level of income sponsors need to meet, and/or a reduction in the annual quota.


It is impossible to look into the future to see exactly what 2024 may bring for New Zealand’s immigration policies. However, in our view, New Zealand is likely to follow the UK and Australia.  As such, we may see tweaks to, or more stringent application of, existing visa requirements, along with the introduction of policies to attract the skills the Government believes New Zealand needs.  Therefore, it will be important for employers and migrants to keep abreast of these changes.

Our immigration team will continue to monitor any announcements, along with any substantive policy announcements.  Please feel free to contact us if we can be of any assistance.


Disclaimer: The content of this article is general in nature and not intended as a substitute for specific professional advice on any matter and should not be relied upon for that purpose.

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