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NZ Citizens Migrating Home In Record Numbers

New Zealand citizens are returning to, and staying in, New Zealand in record numbers, as the COVID-19 pandemic spreads, Stats NZ said today.

Annual migrant arrivals of New Zealand citizens are provisionally estimated at 42,800 for the year ended March 2020, with almost half of these arriving between December 2019 and March 2020. This is the highest annual number on record.

All provisional estimates are subject to revision however, especially as some New Zealand citizens who recently returned may head back overseas once border restrictions are relaxed and international travel resumes.

Annual migrant departures of New Zealand citizens are provisionally estimated at 35,700 for the year ended March 2020. This is well below the annual average of 52,800 since 2001.

As a result, net migration of New Zealand citizens for the year ended March 2020 is provisionally estimated at 7,200.

“This is the highest annual figure on record, and is a reversal of the long-standing historical pattern where more New Zealand citizens depart than arrive,” population insights senior manager Brooke Theyers said.

“Historical fluctuations in the net migration of New Zealand citizens have largely been driven by trans-Tasman departures.”

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 net migration loss of New Zealand citizens was significant in 1998–2001, 2007–09, and 2011–13. The net loss has been relatively low since 2014.

In March 2020 the New Zealand Government escalated its response to the COVID-19 pandemic and heavily restricted movement across our international border. Since March many international flights worldwide have been cancelled as governments try to stop the spread of COVID-19.

“In recent months, more New Zealand citizens than usual have migrated home, for a number of reasons, including possibly seeing New Zealand as a safe haven,” Mrs Theyers said.

“At the same time, New Zealand citizens may have been unable or reluctant to head offshore."

Migration of non-New Zealand citizens remains high

There was an estimated net gain of 64,300 non-New Zealand citizens in the year ended March 2020.

The annual net gain of non-New Zealand citizens has fluctuated around 60,000 since mid-2015. These levels are relatively high historically but below the peak of 75,600 in the year ended October 2002.

Year ended March 2020 – provisional migration estimates

Provisional migration estimates for the year ended March 2020 show annual net migration at 71,500. Migrant arrivals were 157,200 and migrant departures were 85,800.

The latest international migration estimates up to March 2020 are more uncertain than usual, due to COVID-19 travel restrictions in New Zealand and other countries.

The latest net migration estimate will be revised in subsequent months but currently exceeds the earlier, finalised, record of 63,900 reached in mid-2016.

“Thousands of people who arrived in New Zealand in recent months have not been able to return home yet, or are staying longer, potentially inflating the estimated number of migrant arrivals,” Mrs Theyers said.

Their prolonged stay in New Zealand is likely to cause an initial over-estimation of migrant arrivals and net migration for the most recent months, December 2019 to March 2020.

“It is not clear when international travel will ramp up and how many people will then depart rather than extend their stay in New Zealand. This will affect how much these migration estimates get revised.”

The latest migration estimates are less certain than the estimate from six months ago. Estimated net migration for the year ended September 2019 is 53,600.

Migration estimates for the year ended November 2018 have now been finalised with a net migration of 49,100.

Who is a migrant?

‘Migrant arrivals’ are overseas residents, including New Zealand citizens, 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, 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 March 2020 therefore informs the latest migration estimates.

Key travel restrictions timeline

2 February 2020: New Zealand Government placed entry restrictions into New Zealand on all foreign nationals travelling from or transiting through mainland China (see New Zealand to restrict travel from China to protect against coronavirus).

2 March 2020: Travel restrictions for China and Iran to continue, and people entering the country from South Korea and northern Italy told to go into self-isolation (see Travel restrictions reconfirmed as precaution against COVID-19).

14 March 2020: Every person entering New Zealand from anywhere in the world will be required to self-isolate for 14 days, excluding the Pacific.

19 March 2020: New Zealand’s borders closed to almost all travellers, except for returning New Zealanders (see Stronger border measures to protect NZers from COVID-19) and New Zealanders advised not to travel overseas (see New Zealanders advised not to travel overseas).

24 March 2020: Tens of thousands of New Zealanders travelling overseas advised to shelter in place (see New Zealanders overseas encouraged to shelter in place).

2 April 2020: New Zealand Government announced that domestic travel restrictions would be relaxed to facilitate the departure of overseas visitors (see Managed departure plan for stranded foreign nationals enables safe, orderly exit).

7 April 2020: New Zealand Government announced New Zealand to enter into transit arrangements with a number of countries to make it easier for each other’s citizens to get home (see Managed transit allows stranded travellers to get home).

9 April 2020: New Zealand Government announced mandatory 14 day border quarantine for all returning NZ resident travellers (see Prime Minister’s remarks halfway through Alert Level 4 lockdown).

The Government Statistician authorises all statistics and data we publish.

For more information about these statistics:

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