ALee Benji, a writer, and David Coffey, a mental health worker, browsed the lists of apartments in Barcelona and dreamed of a vacation when it came to them. The couple, both 33, have been planning a trip abroad for some time. When they looked at long-term housing, they realized it was more affordable than what they were paying for shared apartments in Wellington, a city with a reputation for cool, outdated housing and high rents.

“We were looking for a place to stay on Airbnb – it’s in Barcelona – and it’s cheaper than what I’d pay here in Wellington,” says David. “If they paid so much, why not do it in one of the biggest cities.” the world?

“The cost of living here is horrible,” he says. “It gets to the point that when you flush money down the toilet … you want to do it somewhere where you’ve spent your whole life? Or do you want to try something different, to try something different? ”

“Yes,” Ellie interjected. “If we’re going to pay a fortune for accommodation, we could do it in London.”

David Coffey and Eli Benji who are thinking of leaving New Zealand to live abroad.

New Zealand was an enviable refuge in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. Tens of thousands of residents flocked home in the first year of the outbreak – and many more wanted it, but were blocked by tight border restrictions.

In 2020, the country reported the largest net increase in citizens since the 1970s. Now those fates are changing, and tens of thousands are ready to leave. Government documents this week estimate that 50,000 will leave within the next year, but the number could rise to 125,000 if young people who postponed travel after school leave.

Each participant in the outcome has its reasons. Some, feeling burned out by the claustrophobia of pandemic life, just want to try something new. The transition to remote work has allowed some to live offshore. Others are young graduates who go on long-term trips with “overseas experience” – a rite of passage for many middle-class New Zealanders.

But almost all of those who spoke to the Guardian said that in addition to towing large cities and new experiences, they were also prompted by difficult home circumstances: rising cost of living, inflation, wage stagnation and an inaccessible housing market.

“Everything is getting harder”

“I’m at the moment when I want to have housing stability, and for me it’s just impossible,” says Rebecca, 39, a marketing worker from Auckland. She is considering moving to Melbourne, where she has several friends and salaries are higher.

Housing prices last year it grew by more than 27%., and reached an average of $ 1 million, which is far beyond the reach of many New Zealanders. “As a single person, it’s impossible to buy,” says Rebecca. “Honestly, it feels like I’m not getting anywhere.”

“Through the pandemic and everything I was looking to buy a house and saved to buy a house – and it was getting harder and harder as well as more depressing,” says David Coffey.

While the market is running growth now slowing downRising interest rates mean that some buyers become disgusted at the thought of unmanageable mortgage repayments.

The country is also in the grip of a sharp rise in the cost of living: in March, food prices rose by 7.6% compared to last year, and fruits and vegetables – by 18%. For some residents, this is enough to turn them in search of greener pastures – and higher wages – in London or Australia.

“The other day I bought a salad and it cost $ 6,” Rebecca says. “I’m sure it’s, you know, grown in hydroponics, but it feels like it’s getting harder and harder and stronger.”

Her sense of gloom is shared by many New Zealanders: according to poll in Marcheconomic optimism declined: only 28% were optimistic about the economy and 53% pessimistic.

Elle, a 30-year-old designer from Wellington, is moving to England next year with her partner. “The industry in New Zealand is very small for designers. You can’t buy a house here. Job options are quite limited, even in the city. It’s like, where else to go? ”

Greener pastures

For many, the easiest jump is to Australia, which does not require work visas for New Zealanders and is by far the largest recipient of emigrants from Aatearoa.

Amy *, 42, is an event manager and single parent living in the South Island. She plans to move to Australia or the Pacific, where she says she could almost double her salary in the events and hotels sector. As the only breadwinner for her son, she says: “I would love to make more money, which is simply not the case in the industry in which I work in New Zealand. The main reason to go so I could just give my son the best opportunities.

“Time for me is a combination of things. It’s not just the cost of living that makes me think about it – it’s [also] that I want to give my child some other experiences and I am at a stage in my life when I want to make more money. If that means we’re going somewhere else, that’s what we’re going to do. “

“It’s not surprising to me that there is an expectation of a return to emigration of New Zealanders,” said Professor Francis Collins, director of the Te Ngira Institute for Population Research at the University of Waikato. “This continues a pattern that has developed over decades and has been particularly drastic in periods when either economic downturns are occurring or when there are problems around inequality of opportunity.”

New Zealand already has a surprisingly high share of the population living abroad – up to 1 million, or 20% of the permanent population, which ranks third in the OECD. In the past, Collins said, high emigration usually occurred during high unemployment. Now, however, unemployment is only 3.2% – and net loss can lead to skills shortages in specialized areas.

This could create problems for Ardern’s government, which earlier in its cadence focused on “resetting immigration” to limit the “low skills” of the workforce and ease pressure on housing or infrastructure.

“If our borders are fully open again, we cannot afford to just open the tap,” Minister Stuart Nash said in a speech in May 2021. “The pressure we’ve seen on housing and infrastructure in recent years means we need to stay ahead of population growth.” Now the government may face problems in the opposite direction – some sectors are already complaining about skills shortages due to labor shortages.

Earlier this month, Kiwibank forecast a net migration loss of 20,000, which, the bank warned, would affect economic growth. “This is a concern because we are already losing people because of the tough labor market,” said Kiwibank chief economist Jarrod Kerr. “We think it’s a big problem.”

“New Zealand has never felt smaller”

While economic factors motivate many New Zealanders, some say they also just feel ready for change. The isolation of Aatearoa was a huge advantage in the fight against the pandemic. But after two years of closed borders, broken supply chains and periodic blockades, some are acutely aware of this isolation and crave connections with the rest of the world.

“I think there is almost some existential loneliness,” says Ali. “It’s not easy [that] we all seem lonely because we are stuck in our homes, but New Zealand has never felt smaller and far from the rest of the world. ”

And while most plan to move at least in the medium term to spend a few years abroad, they also expect to return someday. If absence also makes the heart stronger, then for the last two years New Zealanders have had very little chance of absence.

“When we decided we wanted to travel, I remember sitting there and thinking, I’d like to miss home,” David says. “It may seem strange. But I want to be at a distance and appreciate New Zealand again. ”

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