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New Zealand is experiencing a significant exodus of its citizens, with new data from Stats NZ revealing record-breaking migration losses. In the year leading up to April 2024, a net migration loss of 56,500 citizens was recorded, exceeding the previous high of 52,000 set in the year to March 2024.

A total of 81,200 New Zealanders departed long-term during this period, marking a 41 per cent increase from the previous year and setting a new record from the former high of 72,400 departures in 2012.

Stats NZ data further showed a provisional net migration loss of 24,200 people to Australia for the year ending September 2023, made up of 18,000 arrivals from Australia to New Zealand and 42,200 departures from New Zealand to Australia. This trend of migration loss to Australia has historically averaged nearly 30,000 annually during 2004–2013 and about 3,000 annually during 2014–2019.

What factors have affected this move?

Several factors are driving New Zealanders to seek opportunities abroad. ASB senior economist Mark Smith commented, “New Zealand loses its lustre,” attributing the exodus to economic conditions and the allure of better opportunities overseas. He noted, “This, combined with moderating arrivals of non-NZ citizens, is expected to drive net migration inflows lower over time.”

Brad Olsen, Infometrics principal economist, identified two primary reasons for the migration trend. “There will be younger Kiwis going overseas for an overseas experience, or a delayed overseas experience, because there have been heavy disruptions over the last few years on that front,” he told The Guardian.

Olsen also highlighted that many are making permanent moves in search of better living conditions. He warned that the ongoing issue of housing affordability and job prospects could make it challenging to attract New Zealanders back, posing a ‘brain drain’ risk as the population ages.

What are the trends showing?

The net migration gain in New Zealand remains historically high but shows a declining trend. In the year to April 2024, New Zealand gained 98,500 migrants, down from 106,000 in the year to March.

This net gain included a net increase of 154,900 non-New Zealand citizens, which offset the net migration loss of 56,500 New Zealand citizens. Citizens of India were the largest group of migrant arrivals with 48,000, followed by the Philippines (30,300), China (25,700), New Zealanders (24,800), and Fiji (10,400).

In the year ending April 2024, New Zealand citizens constituted the largest group of migrant departures, with 81,200 individuals leaving the country. Image used for representational purposes/Reuters© Provided by Firstpost
In the year ending April 2024, New Zealand citizens constituted the largest group of migrant departures, with 81,200 individuals leaving the country. Image used for representational purposes/Reuters

Westpac senior economist Michael Gordon noted that while total migrant inflows remain above pre-COVID levels, they are running below the peak seen in early 2023, which was driven by high work visa approvals and the return of international students.

“Departures of New Zealanders have been on an upward trend since early 2022, which likely reflects a catch-up on delayed plans,” Gordon told NZ Herald. He also noted a recent increase in departures of non-New Zealand citizens, potentially indicating deteriorating job prospects.

What is the impact?

The continuous outflow of New Zealand citizens is causing concern among economists and policymakers. Tehseen Islam, Stats NZ’s population indicators manager, noted, “Historically, changes in migration are typically due to a combination of factors – those include the relative economic and labour market conditions between New Zealand and the rest of the world.”

Then-New Zealand Prime Minister Chris Hipkins had pledged, last year, to focus government reforms on tackling the “global pandemic of inflation” and rising living costs. However, with food prices jumping 11.3 per cent year-on-year in December 2022, the highest increase in over three decades, and ongoing economic challenges, the allure of better opportunities abroad remains strong for many Kiwis.

With inputs from agencies

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