New Zealand’s borders are opening and Kiwis are looking for the door, but an expat organization says the loss of talent to other countries will only be temporary.
Brent Thomas, chief operating officer of House of Travel, said that since the country’s borders began to open, his teams have seen pent-up demand for people pursuing their “almost God-given right to New Zealanders to go to OE”.
A record number of Kiwis returned to New Zealand in 2020, but before the pandemic, according to Stats NZ, more than 50,000 people on average migrated from New Zealand each year.
Toni Truslove, CEO of Kea New Zealand, an organization dedicated to keeping in touch with expats, said that for 21 years they have seen Kiwis explode.
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“Yes, we are going to lose Kiwis at a time when finding talent is a major challenge for New Zealand, but they tend to go back and bring their acquired knowledge back with them,” Truslove said.
She hoped the innovations the pandemic had forced businesses into – such as remote working – could mean New Zealanders could continue to work for local companies even when travelling.
Christchurch student Mia Sutherland, 20, is leaving for London in May, after spending two years studying law and geography at the University of Canterbury.
Sutherland has booked a flight and a hostel in London, “and I’m just going to see what happens from there,” she said.
The idea of moving came to her when she thought of continuing the cycle of examinations and university work for another three years.
“I haven’t really stopped to think about what I want out of my life,” she said. “It’s a bit morbid, but if I died tomorrow, would I be satisfied?”
The Prime Minister has given the latest dates for the opening of the New Zealand border – this time for overseas visitors. (Video first published on March 16, 2022)
Two postgraduate students in Dunedin say a combination of opportunity, the local cost of living and low salaries were the reason they planned to leave.
“In New Zealand, the cost of living is high and wages are low. There are not so many opportunities,” said Sahitya Anand, a 32-year-old master’s student.
She said leaving the country was crucial for her career development. The pandemic had posed a significant risk to his future and that of his peers.
Anand had quit his IT job in hopes of joining the startup industry and moving to the United States before the pandemic hit. When she couldn’t leave, she enrolled in a master’s program.
“I knew I would need to improve my skills in the meantime,” she said.
The University of Otago wasn’t exactly Silicon Valley, but Anand said it had the best MBA program in the country.
Now that the border was opening, she was able to do a three-month student exchange at Duke University in North Carolina, where she hoped to network. The goal was to get a job in the United States, learn new skills, and then come back.
She said since the borders closed, crucial networking opportunities were virtually non-existent.
She expected many young professionals, especially college students, to leave the country for these opportunities, but it would be temporary.
“People come back because of the people here, the lifestyle…it makes this place their home.”
Lily Bentall, 23, has been earning a PhD in neuroscience for four months and already knows she will be going overseas for a career.
She doesn’t know where or what exactly, but thought “somewhere in Europe”.
“There are a lot more jobs abroad. In terms of research quality in New Zealand, we punch above our weight, but the money just isn’t there. Abroad, I could learn incredible techniques that I could bring back and teach.
“New Zealand is the most beautiful place in the world… I couldn’t imagine settling anywhere else.
Thomas said his teams had been “frenzied, but a good frenzy” since the government announced the opening of borders.
He said most people book short vacations to take a break or see whānau, but others explore opportunities to finally continue this planned OE.
Australia and the South Pacific were the most popular destinations, he said. Flights available to Fiji and Hawaii in particular have been nearly full for months.
“People have missed life events… not being able to travel has been huge.”
He said there was a boom in the number of people booking trips through travel agencies due to the increased complexity and range of rules or documentation requirements in different countries.
Additional reporting by Steven Walton