Here’s how many South Africans have moved to New Zealand over the last year

Statistics New Zealand has published its latest travel and migration data, detailing how many South African migrants have arrived in the country over the last year.

The statistics body said that people’s ability to travel in 2020 has been limited due to Covid-19 border and travel restrictions, along with capacity restrictions in managed isolation and quarantine facilities.

StatsNZ defines ‘migrant arrivals’ as overseas residents, including New Zealand citizens living overseas, who cumulatively spend 12 of the next 16 months in New Zealand after arriving.

The classification of travellers as migrants is based on their time spent in and out of New Zealand, not what visa type or passport they cross the border on, and not on their responses on arrival cards.

StatsNZ’s data shows that annual net migration for the year ended September 2020 is provisionally estimated at 67,700, with 96% of the gain occurring in the six months from October 2019 to March 2020 in the lead-up to travel and border restrictions.

“As the Covid-19 pandemic developed many people who arrived in New Zealand in late-2019 and early-2020 have not yet returned overseas, and are staying longer than usual,” said population indicators manager Tehseen Islam.

“Annual net migration estimates provisionally peaked at almost 95,000 in the year ended March 2020, however since then migration has fallen due to travel and border restrictions.”

This means that the longer people stay in New Zealand, the more likely they are to be estimated as a migrant arrival. Migration estimates could be revised up or down depending on whether these people stay in New Zealand or head back overseas.

For migrant arrivals in the September 2019/2020 year, New Zealand citizens were the largest group with 44,000 arrivals. The next largest groups were citizens of:

  • India – 13,200;
  • China – 8,500;
  • South Africa – 7,100;
  • United Kingdom – 6,600;
  • Australia – 5,900;
  • Philippines – 5,000.

Not a reflection of permanent emigration

This 7,100 figure is not an accurate representation of South African citizens who have permanently emigrated to New Zealand – especially as strict travel restrictions remain in place due to the pandemic.

Many visitors to New Zealand, travelling on a range of visa types, have been unable to depart and estimates show that as at 6 November 2020 there are 80,000–110,000 visitors still in the country.

Their prolonged stay in New Zealand is currently contributing to high estimates of migrant arrivals and net migration between late-2019 and March 2020.

However, New Zealand is historically a popular destination for emigrating South Africans – typically only behind the United Kingdom and Australia.

South Africans choose to move to New Zealand for numerous reasons, most notably because its safe, is child-friendly, and for job opportunities.

Historically these South Africans have entered the country on residence and work visas, however, the data shows that there has also been an increase in student visa-arrivals in recent years.


“Travellers arriving into the country have identified with a broad and diverse range of occupations, however we don’t know whether these people will be looking to join the New Zealand workforce,” Islam said.

From April 2020 to September 2020, the stated occupation of overseas resident arrivals has included:

  • Teachers (1,000);
  • Engineering professionals (900);
  • Miscellaneous labourers – for example,  ship crew and general labourers (800);
  • Midwifery and nursing professionals (600);
  • Miscellaneous specialist managers (600).

About half (26,900) of all arrivals from April 2020 to September 2020 had an occupation allocated.

Occupations weren’t allocated to students, retirees, children, and people who didn’t provide a response, or whose response couldn’t be identified.

Auckland most popular destination 

Just over two in five (about 13,000) overseas resident arrivals from April 2020 to September 2020 provided a street address in the Auckland region. By comparison, just over one in three (about 1.7 million) of New Zealand’s population lives in Auckland.

“Most overseas residents are providing street addresses in North Island regions, particularly Auckland, however they may end up staying elsewhere during their time in New Zealand,” Islam said.

Overseas resident arrivals have also provided addresses in other regions, including Canterbury (3,000), Wellington (3,000), Waikato (2,500), and Bay of Plenty (2,100).

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Here’s how many South Africans have moved to New Zealand over the last year