Claims of Aussie brain drain a myth

Written By: - Date published: 12:04 pm, February 18th, 2008 - 29 comments
Categories: im/migration, national - Tags: ,

Refreshing to see the fourth estate challenging the political spin from time to time.

The Independent Financial Review has this on the myth of the Aussie brain drain:

Far from losing our “best and brightest” as business lobby groups insist about half of Kiwi migrants are blue collar or “no collar” workers, according to departure card information collated by Statistics New Zealand…

People needed to keep a sense of perspective about migration, added Richard Bedford, University of Waikato director of population studies… “You can’t panic over one year’s figures you’ve got to put them in the longer-term context.”

Business New Zealand chief executive Phil O’Reilly has been thunderous in his criticism of the Labour government, blaming it for the loss of capable workers.

The statistics tell a different story. Just over 37,000 Kiwis moved to Australia last year, nearly one-quarter of them children aged under 15, leaving 28,654 of working age.

Of these, a little under half (13,838) did not record an occupation on departure cards, leaving 14,816. Half of these were blue collar or no-collar, ranging from sales and service to unskilled labour.

White collar occupations ranged from professionals to clerks.

Khawaja said 45% of New Zealanders living overseas have a university degree, but this is dragged down by migration to Australia, where Kiwis don’t face entry requirements.

The proportion of tertiary educated foreigners moving to New Zealand is much higher, he said. Taking into consideration Australian migration to New Zealand, there was a net outflow of 28,000, a quarter of whom were children.

Anecdotal evidence, Bedford added, suggested Australian migration to New Zealand was highly educated because a high proportion involved managerial positions.

“The brightest and best bit was overstated,” Bedford said. “The reality is that an awful lot of New Zealanders travel overseas, get experience and come back home.

“Over a long period there are cycles. In a few more years [the net outflow to Australia] will be reversed.”

Below is a quick graph to show the relative proportions as above.

What it suggests is that contrary to Key’s theatrical claim that this year a whole stadium of top Kiwis are leaving for Australia, the real scale is more like a couple of rows.

What’s more, the figures show that those choosing to leave are being replaced to a significant degree by skilled migrants via an inflow through the corporate boxes.


29 comments on “Claims of Aussie brain drain a myth”

  1. refreshing but unsurprising, going by the quality of those “long time listeners, first time callers” who declare every month they’re off to Australia now NZ is on its way to hell in a hand-basket.

  2. [Try making comments based on fact rather than smear and innuendo Whale. We welcome right-leaning commenters with sensible contributions – you’re not one of them.]

  3. Steve Pierson 4

    The argument that there’s a brian drain has always been false. A relatively small percentage of the population leaves permanently (an often ignored part of the migraiton figures is that permanent emmigrants includes foreigners who were here longer than a year and people who are leaving for a year but ocming back, and vice versa permanent immgration includes kiwis returning and foreigners coming for over a year but not forver) and of those many are children or lowly qualified. In return we get doctors, engineers and other highly qualified people. There is a net inflow of qualifications into this country, higher than the net inflow of people.

    captcha: mate overrated (referring to Key?)

  4. “there’s a brian drain”

    i heard we are also starting to lack Steves, Alans and Normans

  5. Why would a migrant fill out an occupation when they are moving to Australia to find a better job?

    I’m surprised there aren’t more people leaving that blank.

  6. Yes, well, hmmm…. – I wonder how those departure card stats counted me. I put down “housewife” as my occupation, but they didn’t ask me for my educational qualifications at all. So am I counted as no loss to NZ, despite my PhD?

  7. Michele Cabiling 8

    IrishBill says: just in case you forgot you’ve been banned until May.

  8. thems “anti-aids consultants”!
    that’s beautiful Michele.

  9. insider 10

    I don’t want to baost that I am a brain to drain but have an offer for such a role. A 50% increase in total remuneration (if including the exchange rate) over my similar role in NZ. Salary is similar but the benefits really up the difference. Tax looks a little lower too. Houses and rents look more affordable there but I don’t have great point of reference not knowing the nice areas.

    I’m mid career not a grad. I’m purely driven by the career opportunity and the money. I’m hoping I will be able to save ten thousand or more a year extra.

    The govt really doesn;t matter to me as I am well paid and am doing ok no matter who is in charge (putting aside macro conditions which I don’t think govts have a lot of control over).

    The issues which will keep me here are purely emotional -family and lifestyle which can’t be replicated or accounted for. That makes the decision a real struggle, but career issues likely means a move to Auckland anyway. whereas if I were younger, earning 40k, I don’t think the decision would be that hard if facing a 50% jump.

    captcha District risky (this is getting spooky)

  10. mike 11

    Great stats – I was worried all the bright sparks (nat voters) were heading off but as a fair few are battlers from struggle street I can rest easy.

  11. Daveo 12

    It’s not good to see anyone going but these stats show John Key’s hysteria about a transtasman ‘brain drain’ are bogus. Indeed, the figures suggest we’re net importers of skills overall.

    We can stop the flow of blue collar workers over the Tasman by lifting wages. That should be the focus of both National and Labour this election.

  12. The Double Standard 14

    Here is Key’s media release from 4 Feb

    National Party Leader John Key says immigration figures showing an acceleration in the number of Kiwis leaving to live in Australia are a wake-up call for the Government.

    “These numbers are further evidence of the failure of the Labour-led Government to address the core issues of why Kiwis are leaving.

    “They are a vote of no confidence in Helen Clark’s Government.

    “There is no other way to describe figures that show 28,000 Kiwis left for Australia last year an increase of 7,300 over 2006, and the highest net loss in 20 years.

    “They highlight the fact that we need to make meaningful changes if we are to encourage tens of thousands of people to stay here.

    “Our economy cannot afford to lose them.

    “Kiwis are tired of waiting for tax cuts and improvements in their basic living conditions. That’s why record numbers of them are voting with their feet.

    “New Zealand is already struggling under a skills shortage and this exodus will add to those worries.

    “Labour has not taken advantage of the strong tailwind it inherited, failing to transform the economy to a level where many of these people want to stay.”

    I’m having trouble reconciling your slightly hysterical approach with what Key says in the release. He correctly accounts for the under 15’s, right? And, the fact that a significant proportion of those leaving have skills, and assuming that a similar ratio of those unspecified are also skilled, there must be a pretty high total. The story doesn’t provide an exact breakdown to show the actual unskilled component, but I’d guess it is under 10%.

    So, a total of around 25,000 skilled migrants each year? Apparently nothing to worry about for Teh Party

  13. Hey TDS. That’s some nice misdirection brother, but what about the fact skilled migrants are making up the difference? I’m sure you guys can come up with a line about that (hint: the race card doesn’t count). C’mon chop, chop! I do like having my own National funded researcher…

  14. insider 16

    You have to be wary on the skilled immigrants. Many will have skills but their qualifications may not be fully accepted. The doctors union is great at that. Or the technical skills are limited by language. So are they truly replacing locally developed skills or are we hollowing out our skills base?

  15. dave 17

    Labour’s definitely entering election year as the underdog – maybe it’s time they started campaigning like it.

    I thought it is obvious that Labour is campaigning like the underdog.

  16. Hey Dave – y’know you’re not really adding much to the debate today mate. How about you try a little harder?

    Insider – that’s a nice story and it fits well with the “my taxi driver was a qualified heart-surgeon” anecdotes but I’d like to see some real numbers on that. I always ask my taxi drivers what they did before they were taxi driver (I’m kinda perversely keen to finally meet one of these heart surgeons) and I’ve never actually had one say they were a heart surgeon, or a structural engineer or architect or whatever. I’ve met a few ex-tranzrail workers though. There are good stories which make good memes and then there are facts.

  17. insider 19


    There have certainly been well documented cases of overseas doctors from what you would think are well qualified systems not being allowed to practice unsupervised – a Swede was the one that stuck in my mind. I know Swedes have hot bods but didn’t think they were that different so as to affect diagnosis.

    I don’t have any numbers – purely anecdotal – but I do talk to employers and recruitment consultants regularly and certainly there is a shortage of skills, and vacancies are often hard to fill due to over or underqualification of candidates. But that is not just a NZ issue.

  18. The Double Standard 20

    Even a two-bit insult artist like Mickey should be able to understand that it would be better for NZ if 28000 workers were not leaving for Australia each year, regardless of how many skilled immigrants we are getting.

    It is the usual Labour-Good National-Bad meme that leads to these tortured posts and comments that attempt to discredit Key, even when they cannot point out anything actually wrong in the press release I quoted.

    If we are getting such a great quality of immigrants, and outgoing ‘brain drain’ is no big deal from Teh Party’s point of view, then why all the moaning about a skills shortage? And hold the BS that blue-collar workers aren’t skilled

    Now, many industries face critical shortages – and it’s not just in the occupations you’d expect. Anyone who has tried to hire a tradesman will not be surprised that plumbers, electricians and cabinet makers appear on the list of skilled workers in long-term short supply. But Department of Labour surveys reveal the squeeze is being felt among hairdressers, chefs, roofers, heavy truck or tanker drivers, and drainlayers too.

    In fact I wouldn’t be surprised if there was a more pressing shortage of tradesman, than lawyers and spin-monkeys.

  19. certainly there is a shortage of skills,

    I don’t doubt there is a shortage of skills. What I asked for was hard facts on how immigration isn’t helping. But I would like to know if you think it’s wages or tax that’s the main driver. I noticed you focused on wages. Are they more important than tax? How would you increase them?

  20. Even a two-bit insult artist like Mickey should be able to understand that it would be better for NZ if 28000 workers were not leaving for Australia each year, regardless of how many skilled immigrants we are getting.

    Firstly TDS – it’s good to see I’m getting up your nose you cute little research unit troll you. And secondly I don’t think it’s a bad thing – I think it’s the market in operation. I haven’t heard of anyone heading to Aussie for a tax cut. But shit do they talk about wages. In fact anyone would think we had a low wage economy! I wonder what the answer is…?

  21. deemac 23

    there is a shortage of skills because employers won’t train people (among other reasons) but international movement of labour is here to stay – they’re moaning about it in Ireland too, as if it weren’t happening anywhere else. It’s the future, get used to it – there’s no “cure”.

  22. The Double Standard 24

    I wonder what the answer is ?

    Vote for National.

  23. IrishBill 25

    I have to agree with ‘Sod here TDS. What is your answer to low wages?

  24. AncientGeek 26

    I wonder what the answer is ?
    Vote for National.

    What so we can….
    To increase the exodus?
    To find out what having no policies means when expressed by a government?
    To find out how much debt a government can pile up?
    To help unemployment grow?

    Yeah right!

    Actually I think both comments (TDS’s and mine) should be removed. Doesn’t “this vote for/against” violate the EFA? Or is that just wingnut propaganda ?

  25. Murray 27

    Taking a telephone prescription from a South Afican Doctor the other day, quote ” hey mon why I haf to repit evryting I focken say to yu”. My reply, quote “because I can’t fucken understand you man”. Great for the safety of the patient.

  26. Linuxluver 28

    It’s interesting that the unskilled / low-skilled a large chunk of migrants to Australia. These are the people who have been hit hardest by the longer hours and lower wages that have been the consequence of the “economic reforms” of the past 25 years. Despite having a conservative government for a decade, Australia has not been as successful as NZ in reducing / removing the protections and benefits that workers there enjoy. Unions are still very strong in Australia.

    Perhaps the flight of people from NZ to Oz has been *caused* by the consequences of the worker-hostile policies that people like the Business Round Table and others continue to advances as the solution to the flight of labour to a place that has not adopted their policies to the same extent?

    I haven’t heard that view put forward by the foreign-owned, corporate print media in NZ…..and don’t expect to hear it. I hope someone does some research on this. It could be very interesting.

  27. the sprout 29

    true LinuxL, you won’t be hearing that any time soon in the NZ msm

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