International migration to New Zealand: Historical themes & trends


New Zealand Productivity Commission

Date published

8 November 2021

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The Productivity Commission has been asked by the Government to examine New Zealand’s immigration system, and make recommendations that would best facilitate its contribution to long-term economic growth and the wellbeing of New Zealanders.

Policy does not exist in a vacuum. It is the result of current political, economic and social pressures, but also historical trends and developments. In order to make recommendations about the future, it is important to understand the origins of current policy and the issues that this country has faced in the past. This working paper aims to identify common or recurring themes in New Zealand’s immigration policy and key turning points, and answer the following questions of relevance to the inquiry:

  • What influence has the Treaty of Waitangi had over immigration policy, and how has its role been understood in the past?
  • Who migrated to New Zealand, and why did they come?
  • What objectives have New Zealand Governments sought to achieve through immigration policy?
  • What have been the notable features of migration into and out of New Zealand since the signing of the Treaty, and how and why have these patterns changed?

About the Commission's immigration inquiry.



Productivity growth

The goal of our research is to facilitate a move from an economy that grows by using more “inputs” (such as labour or natural resources), to one where productivity plays a greater role in driving economic growth – essentially, working smarter, with greater financial and knowledge capital employed per worker.

Our research explores a wide range of productivity issues: employment, firm dynamics, technology diffusion, innovation, regional development, spatial and public-sector productivity.

Working together

The commissioning of research and the practice of collaboration with others is important to us. It enables us to access subject/sector specialists and benefit from the cross-promotion of ideas and insights. You will find research from the Commission, as well as research we commissioned, below.

Strengthening learning

Our Economics & Research team is independently evaluated every two years to understand how to improve and enhance our impact. See the latest evaluation report and 2020 survey results here.


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