A slowdown in the economy and the Canterbury and Japan earthquakes appear to have slowed the number of people arriving in New Zealand to live and work, new figures show.

Department of Labour figures released today show a drop of 15,000 in the number of overseas visitors in March 2011 to just over 104,000, compared with just under 120,000 in March 2010.

However, total overseas visitor numbers for the first nine months of this financial year still are up by 1% from the same nine-month period in the previous financial year. The overall increase is mainly due to an increase in visitors from China, up 34%.

Fewer people though are moving to New Zealand to live and work. The Department’s Migration Trends Key Indicators Report shows that the number of residence approvals declined during the period to 28,675 people, compared with 32,359 for the same period in 2010 and 33,526 in 2009.

This fall was not unexpected and is the result of the economic slowdown that is continuing to have a significant impact on migration flows globally, officials said.

‘Skilled people who might be interested in migrating are less willing and able to give up a job, sell their house and move to a new life overseas. Additionally, fewer skilled job offers were available in New Zealand during the period. Opportunities are expected to increase once the economy recovers and the rebuild of Christchurch gains momentum,’ the report says.

‘The Christchurch earthquake on 22nd February has had an impact on migration trends in the current financial year. The immediate impact of the earthquake was mainly seen in reduced visitor arrivals. However, the full impact of the earthquake on migration flows may emerge in the coming months,’ it adds.

The number of people approved a temporary work visa in July to March 2011 was 105,434, compared with 101,321 approvals in the previous July March period.

However, student numbers increased, with 61,138 people approved a student visa in July to March 2011, a 4% increase from the 58,859 who were approved in the same period in 2009/10.

The Department of Labour’s Head of Research Vasantha Krishnan says the overall increases in visitor, student and temporary worker numbers over the past nine months are encouraging, given the Canterbury and Christchurch earthquakes.

‘It will be interesting to see the full year figures for temporary migrants, because the current quarter is likely to be the telling one in terms of the full impact of the earthquakes on these numbers,’ she said.