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Massive wave of skilled South Africans moving to New Zealand

A record number of skilled South Africans are moving to New Zealand, migration data shows, with the first half of 2022 already showing more applications to move to the island nation than ever before.

According to data published by Stats New Zealand, between January and May 2022, 11,364 South Africans had their residency applications approved for processing. The vast majority of these applications (11,238) were on a business or skill visa.

The number – for five months of the year – far outstrips the 8,394 approvals in the whole of 2021, and the 5,409 approvals in 2020 – two years that were heavily impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdowns on travel in both South Africa and New Zealand.

The R7 Residence approval signifies the number of residence applications that have met the necessary requirements to be considered for residency. In terms of actual residency decisions made, Stats NZ shows that almost 8,000 applications have already been approved this year so far (to May 2022).

The stats body’s data shows that 27,852 applications are currently on-hand, awaiting a decision. South Africans choose to move to New Zealand for numerous reasons, most notably because it is deemed safe, child-friendly, and has job opportunities.

South Africans moving abroad

According to data from the UN, New Zealand is the fourth most popular destination for South African expats, preceded by the UK, Australia and the United States.

Stats published by the UK Home Office show that between Q1 2020 and Q3 2021, 5,845 citizenship grants were awarded to South Africans relocating to the country. This includes naturalisations based on marriage, residency and registrations on other grounds.

The latest update from Stats Australia shows that at the end of 2021, there were 201,930 South Africans living in the country – 2,230 more than recorded at the end of 2020. Over 40,000 South Africans moved to Australia between 2011 and 2021.

In the US, the Department of Homeland Security’s data shows that 652 South Africans have obtained resident status so far in 2022, with 2,386 passing in 2021.

The Department of Home Affairs and Statistics South Africa currently does not track data on emigration. However, the United Nations does keep data on migrant stock and where South Africans have emigrated over the last few decades.

According to the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs’ 2020 International Migrant Stock report, by the end of 2020, 914,901 South Africans were living in other countries and territories, up from 786,554 in 2015.

Three times as many people emigrated from South Africa between 2015 and 2020 – over 128,000 people – than between 2010 and 2015 (43,000 people), the data showed.

The UK has the most migrant stock from South Africa, with almost a quarter of a million residents listing RSA as their birth country. This is followed by Australia, the USA and New Zealand.

Country of destination Number of emigrants (end-2020)
United Kingdom 247 300
Australia 199 700
United States 117 300
New Zealand 73 800
Canada 48 100
Germany 20 400
Mozambique 20 200
Zimbabwe 19 700
Netherlands 17 500
Eswatini 12 700

Canada in demand

At the end of 2020, Canada was home to just over 48,000 South Africans, according to the UN’s data.

Two new studies compiling localised search data show that South Africans who are investigating a move overseas are increasingly looking at Canada as their top destination.

The studies, conducted by price comparison group CompareTheMarket and online remittance service Remitly, looked at annual Google search volumes in 2020/21 for key phrases, including queries for housing and property prices in specified countries, and queries on how to emigrate or relocate to these destinations.

Canada emerged as the most sought-after destination overall, with 50 countries in the CompareTheMarket study and 30 countries in the Remitly study recording the most search volumes for the North American nation. This was followed by Japan (31 and 13 countries) and Spain (19 and 12 countries).

In both studies, South Africans looked for the most information about Canada.

Data from Statistics Canada in 2021 showed that there was a growing trend in South Africans moving to the country.

Between 2015 and 2020 over 25,000 South Africans obtained either temporary status, permanent residency or citizenship in Canada. And between 2015 and 2019 there was a 67.3% increase in South Africans obtaining permanent residency and a 75% increase in the number of study permits.

Overall, there was a 37.5% rise in the number of South Africans entering Canada prior to the Covid-19 global pandemic in 2020. While the 2020/2021 pandemic caused emigration to Canada to pause, travel to Canada has picked up again in 2022.

Read: More South Africans are looking at leaving: here’s where they want to go


Content contributor at AFAL [African Alert]. Sarah is a passionate copywriter who stalks celebrities all day.

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