Via Financial Times

Covid-19 helps push New Zealand’s population above 5m

Jamie Smyth in Sydney

A surge in returning Kiwis and a reluctance of New Zealanders to move overseas due to the Covid-19 pandemic has helped push the Pacific nation’s population above 5m people for the first time, the government said on Monday.

New Zealand’s resident population passed the 5m milestone in March following a decade of rapid immigration, which was driven by strong economic growth and a boom in employment. It took 17 years for the population to increase from 4m to 5m — the fastest rate of net migration in New Zealand’s history.

Annual migrant arrivals of New Zealand citizens hit a record 42,800 for the year ended March 2020, with almost half of these arriving between December 2019 and March 2020, said Stats New Zealand.

“Net migration has been boosted by more New Zealand citizens returning home after living overseas” said Brooke Theyers, population insights senior manager.
“At the same time, New Zealand citizens may have been unable or reluctant to head offshore.”

Stats New Zealand said the pandemic was causing unusual international travel and migration patterns, due to the closure of international borders. It said the migration estimates were subject to future revision, particularly if recent migrant arrivals head back to their home countries once border restrictions were eased and international travel resumes.

New Zealand was one of the first nations to close its international borders in March as Covid-19 began to spread around the world. Its speedy action and comprehensive lockdown on activity has successfully suppressed the virus, with just a handful of new cases reported over the past week.

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Francis Collins, director of National Institute of Demographic and Economic Analysis at University of Waikato, said net migration could fall later this year if borders remained closed and international migrants living in New Zealand began to leave as visas expired or they lost their jobs.

“A lot of migrants on visas work in hospitality or tourism, which are sectors that have suffered during the pandemic. They could start to leave when air travel resumes,” he said. “Government policy on migration will also play a role so it is hard to tell what will happen.”

Australia is forecasting a 30 per cent fall in annual net migration in 2020-21, when compared to the 2019-20 financial year. For 2020-21 the government forecasts an 85 per cent slump in net migration, compared to 2018-19 when Australia’s population grew by 239,600 from net overseas migration.