New data, graph highlight record drop in migration, border crossings in wake of COVID-19

The number of people crossing New Zealand's border has fallen by a record amount over the last year, new data shows.

StatsNZ on Monday released new data showing net migration gain of just 6,600 people in the year to March 2021, compared to 91,900 in the year to March 2020, which was the highest on record.

There were 36,400 migrant arrivals, the lowest since 1986, and 29,800 migrant departures, the lowest since 1969. A net gain of 15,500 New Zealand citizens was partially offset by a net loss of 8,900 non-New Zealand citizens, a reverse of the traditional pattern. 

The number of overall border crossings has also been hit hard, with 319,700 in the year to March 2021 - made up of 127,600 arrivals and 192,100 departures - compared to 13.6 million border crossings in the year to March 2020. 

A border crossing is an arrival or departure, either from short-term or long-term trips, including foreigners and Kiwis.

Estimated migration.
Estimated migration. Photo credit: Stats NZ.

The COVID-19 border and travel restrictions first implemented in mid-March of last year are behind the drops, StatsNZ's population indicators manage Tehseen Islam says. 

While there are some exemptions, travel to Aotearoa remains restricted mostly to just New Zealand citizens, permanent residents and their families. 

In April 2021, the Government opened a two-way travel bubble allowing people to hop across the ditch to Australia without the need to quarantine on the way back. Kiwis returning from other countries must still undergo 14 days in managed isolation. 

"People's ability to travel was limited due to border and travel restrictions, along with capacity restrictions in managed isolation and quarantine facilities," Islam says.

A graph from StatsNZ shows the extent of the plummet in border crossings to a level not seen since the early 1960s when air travel was only just taking off and growing more common.

Border crossings.
Border crossings. Photo credit: Stats NZ.

Of the 127,600 arrivals into New Zealand over the last year, 80,100 (or 63 percent) were New Zealand citizens, a share which is up from the five previous March years where an average of 42 percent of arrivals were New Zealand citizens.

Similarly, of the 192,100 departures, 136,300 (or 71 percent) were by non-New Zealanders, higher than the 58 percent average of the last five March years.  

There has been a recent uptick in crossings, however, since the Australia bubble opened. Provisional data shows that between April 19 - when the bubble began - and May 9, there was an average of 22,000 arrivals and 18,500 departures each week. Roughly 90 percent of those were from or to Australia. 

About 60 percent of the crossings each week since April 19 have been New Zealand citizens, with Australian citizens making up 35 percent of arrivals and 30 percent of departures.

Arrivals and departures are much higher than in the same period in 2020, but well down on 2019, when there were more than 60,000 a week.

"Weekly border crossing numbers since April 19 2021 are well up compared to earlier in 2021, when weekly arrivals averaged 3,000, and weekly departures averaged 3,300," Islam says.