Staggering figures show record number of Kiwis flocking home to New Zealand

For the first time since records began, New Zealand has recorded an annual gain in Kiwis returning home rather than a loss.

The statistics show COVID-19 has stopped many Kiwis heading abroad to live, but also record numbers are flocking home.

William O'Brien is now living with his mother in Christchurch - a far cry from a few months ago, when he was living his dream studying a Masters in music in San Francisco.

"It was really a new beginning, very exciting and a beautiful place to be," O'Brien said.

But after the coronavirus pandemic hit and rapidly started spreading across the US, O'Brien decided to move out of his apartment and fly back to New Zealand, making fast and difficult decisions.

"Do I stay in isolation in San Francisco in America, or do I fly back to New Zealand while the borders are still open?" he said. "I had no idea whether or not they were going to close completely."

He's certainly not alone. For the first time ever, Kiwis came back to New Zealand in greater numbers than those who left.

"There's an estimated gain of about 11,000 New Zealand citizens, which is a reversal of the long-standing historical trend," explained Kim Dunstan of Statistics New Zealand. 

Usually there's a loss of around 20,000 New Zealanders a year - mostly to Australia.

"We haven't had net gains of New Zealand citizens on an annual basis ever before," Dunstan said.

The changes in many of the statistics after COVID-19 are staggering. Last year in April, New Zealand had 1.2 million arrivals and departures, while a year later that dropped to just 38,000. 

There's still an estimated 800,000 or so Kiwis living overseas, so there may be larger numbers still to return home to live.

But O'Brien hopes to reverse at least one of the statistics and move back to the US if he can later in the year.

"Hopefully [I can]. We've all got to be sensible and just assess based on our own personal circumstances," he said. 

He's one of thousands of Kiwis trying to work out where now is their place in the world.