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UK Brexit blues drive New Zealand dream

Immigration advisers who’ve noticed a surge in British interest toward New Zealand following the UK's Brexit vote warn it won’t last. Blair Cunningham reports from Wellington.

Immigration advisers who’ve noticed a surge in British interest toward New Zealand following the UK’s Brexit vote warn it won’t last. Blair Cunningham reports from Wellington.
On the day of the vote, Immigration New Zealand received 998 registrations of interest, compared with just 109 the day before the vote.

Immigration New Zealand’s area manager Darren Calder says a similar trend has carried on – in the first 49 days following the vote, there were 10,647 registrations, compared with 4,599 in the same period last year.

David Cooper, a director with Auckland-based consultants Malcolm Pacific, says that momentum is continuing. Interestingly, the agency is already starting to field more and more enquires from the United States too, ahead of its presidential election in November.

“There are a number of push factors which motivate people to leave the UK in favor of New Zealand and most of the time those relate to family, politics or the economy,” Cooper told DW.

“Something is saying to people it’s time to move on – that could also be things we’re regularly seeing in the media such as terrorist attacks or shootings.”

Paul Janssen is a senior consultant with Auckland firm IMMagine Immigration. He isn’t surprised by the recent spike in registrations either. “It happens in different parts of the world too. When South Africa’s finance minister (Pravin Gordhan) failed to impress with his budget earlier this year, our enquiries about moving here skyrocketed. In the short term, a major political or economic event such as Brexit will always make people look further afield thinking the grass is always greener.”

Attraction is strong

While most agree that family plays a large part in determining where someone is prepared to travel to, a change of lifestyle is one of the most common reasons Britons pack up their lives to trek across the world.

Cooper says quite often people just want to get away from the instability – they see New Zealand as a safe haven.

“They’re concerned about their own country; they love our country and its friendliness – comparatively we’re still a friendly country, people who come here notice it; we don’t because we’re living it.”

Christchurch resident Mike Bell is one of those British expats who, in 2000, emigrated to New Zealand, having decided he and his wife Tammy needed to find a safe, cleaner, healthier environment to raise their three young daughters.

Bell, who’s also an immigration adviser and director of New Zealand Immigration Advice, says Britons often have a very set view on what the country is like, having been to various websites and sometimes even travelled here.

“New Zealand as a stable, safe and beautiful place to live is often the first country people think of when they want to emigrate,” Bell told DW.

Kiwi’s returning

One New Zealander living in London is more determined than ever to return home – just not yet. If anything, now the pound sterling is worth less, it’s made it less attractive for marketer Josh Hussey to come home straight away. Hussey and his fiance Gemma Dunford have been in the UK since 2012.

Hussey told DW he hopes the weaker pound will bounce back and then he’s sure interest in moving to New Zealand will only continue to grow.

“I think the Brexit vote has cemented the idea of coming home rather than lingering over here for a few more years.”

Hussey knows some original “remain” voters have been entertaining the idea, but he isn’t sure whether they’re serious or not.

“I’ve heard lots of voters joking about moving to New Zealand, especially if (US Republican nominee) Donald Trump also gets in. New Zealand would start to look like a pretty nice little safe corner of the world.”

Global jitters

The Brexit vote in Britain and upcoming presidential election in the United States are obviously two key factors driving the enquiries. Mike Bell isn’t surprised and says political change and instability are crucial indicators. “It is quite common for thoughts of migration to be sparked by disappointment in political change, especially amongst the citizens of first-world countries who are potentially globally mobile.”

David Cooper says there’s also been plenty activity out of the US. “If we looked at the last five to six weeks, predominantly out of the US, we’re hearing people say the Trump card is worrying us, we don’t like where the country is heading and we don’t like the gun issue.”

However, immigration expert Paul Janssen says the spike in registrations won’t necessarily translate into a spike in immigration.

“This interest will wane. People also don’t fully understand what’s required sometimes, they’ll go online and see plenty of great pictures and promotional material for New Zealand but then they get to the nuts and bolts of what’s required (to move) and some don’t bother,” he said.

Over the past decade, roughly 23,000 UK citizens have travelled to New Zealand every year to work temporarily before returning home. The actual number of citizens applying to settle is much lower – only roughly 5,200 do so every year.

The issue of immigration has been hotly debated by New Zealand politicians in recent months, with many opposition MPs blaming the flow of immigration for an out-of control housing market in the country’s largest city. Currently Auckland’s property prices are the fifth-least affordable in the world.

Effective immigration

There are other issues too, which is why Cooper chooses not to over-sell the country to clients.

“We don’t believe it is Malcolm Pacific’s job to sell New Zealand, it may be slightly old fashioned, but if we flog the country too hard, things could come back to bite us. People could question why we didn’t tell them about the crime in New Zealand, or child poverty rates in South Auckland.”

But everyone agrees immigration is crucial for the country, whether it’s genuine or simply interest as a result of key political events such as the Brexit vote.

Dr. Gazi Hassan, University of Waikato’s senior lecturer in economics, looks at the macro-economics of immigration and says there’s much positivity that new residents can bring.

“Immigration brings the people, the ideas, the human capital, the experience, the investment. But the screening process needs to be equally as good.”

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