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Travel Restrictions Flatten Arrivals And Departures

The number of people crossing New Zealand’s border in April 2020 fell to levels last seen in the late 1960s, Stats NZ said today.

There were a combined 38,200 arrivals and departures in April 2020, compared with nearly 1.2 million in April 2019.

New Zealand’s border was closed to almost all visitor arrivals just before midnight on 19 March 2020. This was part of the New Zealand government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Since then, daily arrival and departure numbers have dropped substantially.

Provisional data for May and June 2020 show low numbers of arrivals and departures across the New Zealand border each day. Some days had no arrivals and others had no departures. Provisional daily border crossing data are currently being published on the Stats NZ

COVID-19 data portal.

Most arrivals New Zealand residents

The total number of arrivals in April 2020 was 6,300, down 550,700 compared with April 2019. Most arrivals were short-term travellers, consisting of 4,000 returning New Zealand residents and 1,700 visitors from overseas. Provisionally there were 700 migrant arrivals.

April 2020 was the first month under full border restrictions imposed by the New Zealand government in response to COVID-19. New Zealand citizens and their families were still able to return, along with other traveller groups granted exemptions from border restrictions (see

Border closures and exceptions


“Of the 1,700 overseas visitors arriving in April 2020, about three-quarters were New Zealand citizens living outside New Zealand,” population indicators manager Tehseen Islam said.

“The remaining one-quarter included family of New Zealand citizens, essential workers, and other exempt travellers.”

The total number of departures in April was 32,000, down 588,900 from April 2019. Provisionally there were 700 migrant departures.

“From 2 April 2020 overseas visitors were able to depart if they could find flights out of the country. A number of international governments also arranged flights to help their citizens leave New Zealand during April,” Mr Islam said.

Travellers staying longer

Border restrictions and widespread flight cancellations related to COVID-19 meant many people who arrived in New Zealand in recent months were unable to leave.

People arriving in New Zealand over the last year have tended to stay longer than usual, especially those who have arrived since late 2019.

The prolonged stay of arrivals to New Zealand may cause an initial over-estimation of migrant arrivals and net migration for the most recent months, December 2019 to April 2020.

Migration estimates remain at high levels

Provisional migration estimates for the year ended April 2020 show annual net migration at 76,600. Migrant arrivals were 161,100 and migrant departures were 84,600. Net migration for the month of April 2020 was close to zero.

Among New Zealand citizens, migrant arrivals and migrant departures are provisionally estimated at 44,800 and 33,700, respectively, for the year ended April 2020. As a result, net migration of New Zealand citizens for the year ended April 2020 is provisionally estimated at 11,100.

However, due to COVID-19 travel restrictions and unusual travel patterns, provisional migration estimates for recent months are subject to more uncertainty than usual.

How much provisional migration estimates are revised in the coming months depends on when international travel resumes in earnest, and whether people who arrived in recent months choose to depart New Zealand or extend their stay.

Migration estimates for six months ago have more certainty than estimates for the latest months. Net migration for the year ended October 2019 is provisionally estimated at 58,400. Migration estimates for the year ended December 2018 have now been finalised with a net migration of 49,500.

As part of the

Migration Data Transformation

project, we have been working on the provisional estimation system that definitively classifies travellers as migrants or non-migrants, and identifies which traveller records require modelling of migrant status. Further work on this estimation system will occur during the next month and may affect future migration estimates.

Who is a migrant?

‘Migrant arrivals’ are overseas residents, including New Zealand citizens living overseas, who cumulatively spend 12 of the next 16 months in New Zealand after arriving.

‘Migrant departures’ are New Zealand residents, including non-New Zealand citizens living in New Zealand, who cumulatively spend 12 of the next 16 months out of New Zealand after departing.

Migrant arrivals and departures include the flows of New Zealand citizens as well as the flows of non-New Zealand citizens as both affect the population living in New Zealand.

The classification of travellers as migrants is based on their time spent in and out of New Zealand, not what visa type or passport they cross the border on, and not on their responses on arrival cards. Given this, we need to observe up to 16 months of travel history, using the

12/16-month rule

, to definitively classify a border crossing as a migrant movement. Border crossing data after April 2020 therefore informs the latest migration estimates.

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