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New Zealand's net immigration maintained its strong pace of recent months, coming in at 2820 in December, slightly higher than forecasts.
Seasonally adjusted Statistics New Zealand data showed about 2600 people left New Zealand for Australia, in line with a month earlier, while the number of new arrivals rose to 8300 from 8200 in November.
On an annual basis, New Zealand gained a net 22,500 new migrants, compared with an outflow of 1200 a year earlier. That was the largest inflow of migrants since 2003, when the country gained a net 34,900 migrants.
Inbound migration is seen as one of the factors driving New Zealand's accelerating economic momentum as it fuels a bubbling property market.
The Reserve Bank signalled yesterday an interest rate hike was imminent as it prepared to head off inflationary pressures in an economy that was expected to grow at an annual pace of about 3.5% this year.
ASB economist Daniel Smith said the general trend of New Zealanders returning from Australia should continue as the New Zealand labour market improved and Australia struggled to add jobs.
''We expect net migration to peak at around 30,000 by mid-2014.''
Strong migration would add a plentiful supply of workers, keeping labour market strains low. But stronger population growth would also generate additional demand, something the Reserve Bank highlighted, he said.
The migration picture in Auckland also presented challenges for the housing market, creating housing demand at a pace current rates could not keep up with.
House building in Auckland should accelerate this year but demand for housing, combined with low levels of new listings, would maintain upward pressure on house prices, Mr Smith said.
Statistics NZ said Australia was the biggest contributor of new migrants, with 19,500 permanent and long-term arrivals in 2013, a gain of 31% from a year earlier.
That was followed by 14,000 people from the UK, down 0.4% from 2012 and 8200 people from China, up 5.9%.
Today's figures also showed a 4.9% rise in short-term visitor arrivals to 381,900 in December from the corresponding month in 2012, for an annual gain of 6% to 2.72 million.
More Australian and United States visitors offset declining numbers of Chinese in December.