Returning Kiwis could be transformational
As the pandemic continues to reverberate around the world, New Zealand is standing tall on the global stage in terms of clear and decisive action, communication and humanity. In addition to bolstering our already strong brand, this leadership has presented an unexpected silver lining, in the form of a large cohort of bright, talented, passionate and community-driven Kiwis inspired to return home and to be part of our pandemic recovery.
New Zealand is unique in this opportunity – with one of the largest offshore populations of any developed country, we’ve dealt with an ongoing ‘Brain Drain’ for several decades. Now, we’re facing a sudden injection of much-needed skills and talent that other nations only dream of.
This week Kea had the pleasure of releasing our latest report; Unleashing the Potential of our Returning Kiwis, and it reveals that the pandemic has caused many of our million-strong diaspora to rethink their plans for the future and to return home.
This report suggests we’re facing a ‘once in a generation’ opportunity to bolster our labour market in sectors where we need volume, such as education and healthcare, as well as sectors where new ideas and global perspectives fuel growth such as technology and construction. Coupled with a strong desire to give back to charities and their communities, these returning Kiwis present enormous potential for transformation across the entire social and economic fabric of New Zealand.
The statistics are striking – in the period March 2019 to end March 2020, New Zealand saw the highest homeward migration in recorded history with 42,800 New Zealand citizens arriving home. Looking to the future, 49% of respondents to the Kea survey indicated their intention to return, 24% in the next 12 months and the remainder over the next four years – signalling a long-term trend. Many of these returners are Kiwis who have been away for 10+ years, on average aged between 35 – 55 and many holding senior positions in high-value sectors.
These are Kiwis that, before 2020, would have been unlikely to come home – 77% stating that their intention to return has been directly influenced by COVID-19. Due to global instability and a desire to be closer to family, these affluent senior professionals are bringing their international ideas, experience and perspective back to New Zealand, with the majority planning to stay permanently.
This wave of returning migrants is what Distinguished Professor Peter Gluckman is referring to as “a once in a lifetime, seismic, Kiwi population shift”. It presents New Zealand with an unparalleled advantage in the global skills race: 12% of those intending to return are in the technology and science sector; 10% are in academia, 9% in infrastructure and 3% in agribusiness.
Distinguished Professor Paul Spoonley said this week that these skilled expats “are coming home, bringing with them skills and experience that make them an extremely important addition to our economy and society.”
Kea was created in 2001 to maintain New Zealand’s connection with the then thousands of expats who were leaving our shores for greener pastures. Through cultivating this community, we have introduced expats to thousands of New Zealand businesses with global aspirations and watched them generously offer market intelligence, advice and networks. Now, 19 years later we’re seeing an incredible reversal as these same passionate Kiwis arrive home. Many have supported New Zealand from afar and now they’re here and more willing than ever to roll up their sleeves.
As a nation, we need to welcome these returnees, and enlist them to help us rebuild our economy, to create new opportunities for the long-term growth of New Zealand.
Kea believes it is time to initiate a taskforce to look at how best we welcome these Kiwis, how we integrate them into our communities and businesses, utilise their skills and how we prepare ahead of time for any resource challenges.