Record number of people leave New Zealand amid cost of living pressures

<span>In recent years, New Zealanders – particularly young professionals and graduates – reported leaving the country due to high living costs and job shortages.</span><span>Photograph: Saeed Khan/AFP/Getty Images</span>
In recent years, New Zealanders – particularly young professionals and graduates – reported leaving the country due to high living costs and job shortages.Photograph: Saeed Khan/AFP/Getty Images

New Zealand citizens are leaving the country in record numbers, with large numbers heading to Australia, new figures show.

Stats NZ’s provisional international migration data shows there were an estimated 130,600 migrant departures in the year to April – the highest on record for an annual period.

Of those leaving the country on a long-term basis, an estimated 81,200 were New Zealand citizens – a 41% increase on the previous year. The figure is a rise from the previous record of 72,400 departures in 2012.

Related: New Zealand tightens visa rules after migration hits ‘unsustainable’ levels

With 24,800 New Zealand citizens arriving during the period, that put the net migration loss of citizens at 56,500 – exceeding the previous record of 44,400 in 2012.

Overall, there was annual net migration gain of 98,500 as 154,900 non-New Zealand citizens entered the country. Migrant arrivals from India were the largest group, followed by the Philippines and China.

On Wednesday, Stats NZ also released provisional data on migration with Australia. It showed in the year to September 2023, 53% of New Zealand citizen departures were to Australia.

In recent years, New Zealanders – particularly young professionals and graduates -reported leaving the country due to high living costs and ongoing job shortages. It is also considered a rite of passage for many young New Zealanders to head overseas once they finish school or higher education.

Stats NZ does not gather specific data from New Zealanders about why they are leaving, but said it can look at overall trends.

“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,” said Tehseen Islam, Stats NZ’s population indicators manager.

Brad Olsen, Infometrics principal economist, said there are two main factors driving the migration overseas.

“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 said.

But half of New Zealanders are moving to Australia, which suggests a greater number of people and families are looking for opportunities and making a more permanent move, he said.

Australian employers have frequently attempted to recruit New Zealand workers with offers of higher pay and better working conditions.

Olsen said while it is normal for New Zealanders to leave the country, it will be harder to convince people to return, if there are ongoing issues around housing affordability and job prospects.

That ‘brain drain’ could pose problems for society as the population ages, Olsen said.

“We need to have as many young people as we can who are still part of the economy … who are being innovative and bringing their new thinking to the game so we can be more productive,” he said.

“If we are losing our young talent and we’re not able to attract them back it makes all of [that] so much harder.”