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International travel and migration patterns shift due to COVID-19 pandemic

COVID-19 international travel restrictions saw New Zealand’s border crossings fall sharply, alongside a slowdown in migration in the June 2020 quarter, Stats NZ has released.

The total number of border crossings in the June 2020 quarter was 78,400, down from 3.14 million for the same period in 2019.

There were 57,200 departures and almost 90 per cent of these were non-New Zealand citizens.

There were 21,100 arrivals, which includes a mix of short-term travellers and migrants.

"The majority of people arriving in recent months are New Zealand citizens, however the numbers are low compared with arrival flows before strict border restrictions came into force on 19 March 2020," population indicators manager Tehseen Islam says.

Two-thirds (14,300) of arrivals were New Zealand citizens. Half (7100) of those were returning from a short-term trip overseas, and half (7200) were arriving after living overseas for more than 12 months.

"Of the 7,200 who have been living overseas it remains to be seen how many will either return overseas, or stay long-term and in time be classed as migrants," says Tehseen.

Not all of the recent arrivals will stay long enough to be classed as migrant arrivals. Provisional migration estimates indicate 2,500 could stay beyond a year.

Provisionally, 45,500 New Zealand citizens arrived as migrants in the year ended June 2020, while 28,500 emigrated over the same period.

As a result, there was a provisional net migration gain of 16,900 New Zealand citizens in the year ended June 2020. About 80 percent (13,900) of the gain was in the six months leading up to border and travel restrictions.

Net migration of New Zealand citizens was higher than usual up to March, as those who arrived in late 2019 and early 2020 decided to stay or were unable to depart.

Since March there have been relatively few New Zealand-citizen migrant departures, which also contributed to the net migration gain.

"New Zealand citizens may have been unable or reluctant to head offshore due to international travel restrictions and the evolving global pandemic," says Tehseen.

"The net gain of New Zealand citizens over the last year reverses the long-standing historical pattern where more New Zealand citizens depart than arrive."

Over the previous 18 years ended June 2002-19, net migration of New Zealand citizens averaged a loss of 19,700 a year.

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