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An attractive destination before the pandemic, young adults now leave New Zealand

A significant number of young adults has left New Zealand, and as borders reopen it questions whether it's temporary or New Zealand is no longer attractive.

New Zealand landscape traveler

Figures released on May 12 by the Statistics of New Zealand show a net migration loss of 7,300 people in the year ended March 2022. It the lowest net migration since 2012. It follows a loss of 1,700 people in 2021 and a record net gain of 91,700 in 2020 during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The loss of residents is larger among foreigners, about 33,300 left New Zealand when 23,900 arrived, for a net loss of 9,400. During the same time, about 22,200 citizens returned to the country when 20,100 went abroad, resulting in a net gain of 2,100.

"Migrants arrivals have dropped to levels seen in the mid-1980s and migrant departures have dropped to levels seen in the mid-1990s," said Tehseen Islam, population indicators manager at Statistics New Zealand. COVID-19 related travel and border restrictions introduced in March 2020 disrupted travel and migration patterns.

The net loss of foreign arrivals and New Zealand citizens who come back home is "a reversal of historical patterns," Mr Islam adds. New Zealand actually was an attractive country with net migration gains in the range of 50,000-60,000 people in the years before the pandemic, far from the deficit of 7,300.

And this is young adults, both nationals and foreigners, who have mainly driven the net migration loss. New Zealanders aged 18 to 27 years show a net migration loss of 1,800 during the year while it had small gains in 2020 and 2021 during the pandemic. And many non-New Zealand citizens in the 18 to 33-year-age group have now left the country whereas they used to be a strong contributor to net migration gains of foreigners.

Last month, government officials said that up to 125,000 New Zealanders could leave the country in the next year as borders reopen and young people who were unable to travel overseas want to do so. But they also said a number closer to 50,000 was more likely.

Some of them are motivated by difficult economic conditions, high costs of accommodations and living. The country is dealing with an inflation of 6.9 percent year on year, the highest consumer price index increase since 1988.

These migrations also have consequences on the labor market as the working age population dwindled by 0.2% over the year, with those in their 20s declining by 3.1%. Meanwhile, many employers struggle to find employees.

Concerns about the attractiveness of the country raised criticism from political opposition of the governing Labor party. For the release of the 2022 government budget, David Seymour, leader of the liberal party ACT New Zealand which has 10 of the 120 seats in the House of Representatives, called it a "brain drain budget".

The immigration minister announced measures that intends to simplify migrants' applications and pathways to residence. As New Zealand, Australia is another destination popular with young adults, which earlier this year waived visa application fees to reinforce its workforce with international backpackers and students.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said that travelling abroad is "part of our history as a nation to frequently have New Zealanders come and go as part of our overseas experience, building skills and talent." She also noted she had lived in London for some time and that forecasts were for a net migration increase over the next few years.

The population of New Zealand grew 0.4% in a year, reaching 5.13 million people, because of natural domestic increase.

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