Here’s why record number of people are leaving NZ

When New Zealand reopened its borders after the pandemic, many people began leaving the country immediately. Kirsty Frame, a 24-year-old journalist in Wellington at the time, felt a constant sense of loss. She recounted a period filled with farewell dinners and leaving drinks, which took an emotional toll.

For Kirsty, Wellington’s charm came from its people. “If what made Wellington great was my community, and now that’s gone and there are fewer people my age, what do I want to do?” she pondered. She considered Auckland but found it also seemed empty. London felt too far away, so in mid-2023, she chose Melbourne.

Since then, departures from New Zealand have increased, with record numbers leaving due to rising living costs and limited job opportunities. Statistics NZ reported a net loss of 56,500 citizens in the year leading to April, a 12,000 increase from the previous record. Half of these people moved to Australia. Experts are concerned that economic difficulties may prevent these New Zealanders from returning.

David Cooper from Malcolm Pacific Immigration noted, “We can’t compete with Australian salaries. Some people feel New Zealand is regressing, so they’re leaving.” Kirsty found better pay and lower rent in Melbourne, describing the move as positive after constant bad news in New Zealand. She feels she might stay in Melbourne long-term.

New Zealanders traditionally travel abroad for experiences, but Gareth Kiernan from Infometrics explained that travel restrictions during the pandemic led to a backlog of people leaving once borders reopened. Joshua Scott, another New Zealander, moved to the UK for broader opportunities and settled in east London, helped by a network of fellow Kiwis.

The allure of Australia is particularly strong. As New Zealand recovers from a recession, many perceive Australia as having a lower cost of living and higher salaries. Emily Partridge, from Dunedin, moved to Sydney for better career prospects and now works for a perfume brand. She found better job satisfaction and pay there.

Maia Vieregg, a recent geology graduate, struggled to find work in New Zealand. Disillusioned by political changes, she moved to Newcastle, Australia, finding better-paid work in mining. While she finds Australia’s materialism challenging, she plans to return to New Zealand eventually.

Cooper and Kiernan express concerns about the impact of this emigration on New Zealand’s skills shortage. The country is losing young, skilled individuals, making it difficult to replace them. Cooper highlights that the departing Kiwis are well-qualified, which worsens the economic outlook if the country cannot retain such talent.

Many young New Zealanders abroad might return when they decide to start families. Partridge and Scott plan to return to New Zealand for family life. Kirsty Frame believes homesickness or family ties might draw her back, but for now, she enjoys encountering fellow Wellingtonians regularly in Melbourne.

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