American interest in moving to New Zealand has spiked during the coronavirus crisis, with the number of people seeking information on how to emigrate climbing by 65% during May.
New Zealand went into lockdown on 25 March and by May was beginning to loosen restrictions, with the disease effectively eliminated by shutting the borders to non-New Zealanders and enforcing strict stay-at-home orders.
Fewer than 1,500 people have been infected with Covid-19 in New Zealand, and 22 have died.
According to figures released by Immigration New Zealand visits to the New Zealand Now website by Americans increased by 37% over April compared to the same time last year, and by 65% in May, with a total of 80,000 Americans expressing interest in shifting to the southern hemisphere in that month alone.
Citizens of the UK also showed an increased interest in relocating, with a growth of 18.5% in May – or 31,000 people. The other top nationalities visiting the site were Australians, South Africans and Indians.
Similar surges of interest were noted after the election of Donald Trump as president and the Brexit vote in 2016.
In the 24 hours following the 2016 US election Immigration New Zealand received 56,300 visits from the US – a huge rise on its daily average of 2,300. Within the same period, more than 7,000 Americans registered interest in moving to New Zealand, which is more than double the monthly average.
The US leads the world in coronavirus cases – 2.8 million – and deaths, which stand at almost 130,000. President Donald Trump has said that 99% of cases are “harmless”.
The borders to New Zealand are closed to all foreign nationals, with only a few exceptions granted to those deemed essential workers – such as the crew of James Cameron’s Avatar sequel.
Visa application are on hold with more than 100,000 waiting to be processed, as foreigners continue submitting applications despite the closures.
Jacinda Ardern has given no indication when she will reopen the borders, with the PM saying her priority is keeping New Zealanders safe and to do so now would be “dangerous”.
New Zealand real estate agents told state broadcaster TVNZ they have also noted a spike in foreigners interested in purchasing New Zealand properties, with more than a quarter of inquiries coming from overseas.
Tommy’s Real Estate said “a lot” of properties were being purchased without a physical viewing, though much of the property interest was from Kiwis overseas planning to return home.
Despite the interest it is harder than ever before for foreigners to build a new life in New Zealand, with the Labour-led government banning house sales to foreigners in 2017 and tightening up requirements for would-be residents.