THE number of New Zealanders who arrived on Australian shores last month was the lowest in two years, according to figures out today.
Statistics New Zealand said 3,770 kiwis crossed the ditch in February, compared to 3,920 the previous month and 4,630 a year ago.
Meanwhile, the number of people moving in the opposite direction rose to 1,420, resulting in a seasonally adjusted net loss of 2,350 migrants to Australia.
Westpac economist Felix Delbruck said net departures to Australia were now the lowest since February 2011.
"Migration flows are volatile from month to month but the modestly improving trend in Trans-Tasman migration seems to be firming," he said.
"This is in line with our view that labour market prospects in Australia are becoming steadily less attractive relative to New Zealand."
A pattern was emerging of fewer departures to Australia every month, said ASB economist Daniel Smith.
"Departures are likely to continue falling as the Canterbury rebuild gathers momentum and the NZ labour market improves relative to that of Australia," he said.
Many of those leaving Australia for New Zealand were Kiwis returning home, he said.
Overall, New Zealand had a net gain (more arrivals than departures) of 550 migrants last month. That came from 7,130 arrivals versus 6,580 departures.
Total net immigration had been positive for five of the past six months, Delbruck said.
In the year to February, New Zealand had a net gain of 1,200 migrants, up from zero in the year to January, according to Statistics NZ.
"Annual net migration is now firmly back in positive territory and we expect it to rise further from here," Delbruck said.
The net loss of migrants to Australia in the February year was 36,700, down from a record of 40,000 in the August 2012 year. That figure came from 52,100 departures to Australia, offset by 15,400 arrivals.
The majority of migrants in both directions were New Zealand citizens, Statistics NZ said.
There were net gains of migrants from most other countries, led by the United Kingdom (5,900), China (5,400), and India (4,900).
"Inflows of foreign migrants increased late last year but have eased back in the last couple of months," Delbruck said.
"We expect these inflows to become stronger over the next few years as labour shortages associated with the Canterbury rebuild become more acute."
Meanwhile, annual visitor arrivals to New Zealand jumped 8.5 per cent last month to 281,200, the highest ever number of visitors for a February month.
This increase was driven by a flood of arrivals during the Chinese New Year period.
The number of visitors to New Zealand from China rose by 106.4 per cent, from 15,280 in February last year to 31,536 last month. Arrivals from Hong Kong jumped 144 per cent to 3,760.