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International Arrivals In May Lowest In 61 Years

The number of people that arrived in New Zealand in May 2020 was the lowest for any month since May 1959, because of COVID-19-related border and travel restrictions, Stats NZ said today.

There were 5,600 arrivals in May 2020 compared with 4,700 in May 1959.

Most arrivals in May 2020 were short-term travellers, made up of 2,600 New Zealand residents and 2,200 overseas visitors. Provisionally there were 900 migrant arrivals. All these passenger types include New Zealand and non-New Zealand citizens.

May was the second month under full border restrictions imposed by the New Zealand government in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. In April 2020 there were 6,300 arrivals.

“Border restrictions and widespread flight cancellations related to COVID-19 have caused the substantial drop in the number of arrivals and departures in recent months,” population indicators manager Tehseen Islam said.

“Total arrivals in May are down compared with April, however provisional data for June show total arrivals rising to over 9,000.”

Stats NZ’s COVID-19 data portal publishes provisional arrivals and departures data daily.

The combined number of arrivals and departures was 15,900 in May 2020, compared with almost 38,200 in April. In May 2019 almost 1 million people crossed the New Zealand border.

Majority of arrivals are New Zealand citizens

New Zealand had 61,500 arrivals, including 47,400 New Zealand citizens, since full border restrictions were imposed at 11:59pm on 19 March, up to and including 10 July 2020.

From 11:59pm on 9 April, a compulsory 14 days of managed isolation was introduced for all arrivals to New Zealand. There have been 20,300 arrivals since then, including 13,400 New Zealand citizens, up to and including 10 July 2020.

Border restrictions have allowed New Zealand citizens and their families to return, along with other traveller groups granted exemptions (see

Border closures and exceptions


For each of the three passenger types – overseas visitors, New Zealand residents, and migrants – about three-quarters of arrivals in April and May were New Zealand citizens. The remaining one-quarter included family of New Zealand citizens, essential workers, and other exempt travellers.

Across all passenger types who arrived in April and May 2020, 8,700 were New Zealand citizens. The largest number of arrivals came from Australia (3,600 or 44 percent), the United Kingdom (700 or 9 percent), the United States (600 or 7 percent), and India (500 or 6 percent).

Most departures are non-New Zealand citizens

There were 2,600 departures of New Zealand citizens in May 2020, out of 10,200 total departures.

Across a combined 42,200 departures in April and May, 9,900 (23 percent) were German citizens, 7,600 (18 percent) were United Kingdom citizens, 4,000 (9 percent) were New Zealand citizens, 3,700 (9 percent) were Chinese citizens, and 3,500 (8 percent) were French citizens.

Preliminary estimates indicate that 115,000–135,000 overseas visitors remain in New Zealand at 3 July 2020 see

Provisional international travel statistics  

 They include Australian and New Zealand citizens visiting New Zealand, as well as some visitors on work, student, visitor, and other visa types. At the same time in 2019, there were 140,000–150,000 overseas visitors in New Zealand.

Annual migration estimates remain at high levels

Net migration for the months of April and May 2020 were provisionally 0 and 400, respectively. Despite low recent migration, provisional migration estimates for the year ended May 2020 show annual net migration at 80,700. Migrant arrivals were 160,700 and migrant departures were 80,000.

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,” Mr Islam said.

“The prolonged stay of arrivals to New Zealand may cause an initial overestimation of migrant arrivals and net migration for recent months.”

Among New Zealand citizens, migrant arrivals and migrant departures are provisionally estimated at 46,000 and 31,200, respectively, for the year ended May 2020. As a result, net migration of New Zealand citizens for the year ended May 2020 is provisionally estimated at 14,700. This net gain continues the recent reversal of the historical net loss of New Zealand citizens, which averaged 20,000 a year between 2002 and 2019.

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 November 2019 is provisionally estimated at 64,000. Migration estimates for the year ended January 2019 have now been finalised with a net migration of 49,100.

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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