Bring them home: Kea survey highlights chance to lure back expat professionals

Skills-starved New Zealand needs to do more to encourage home the large number ofKiwis offshore before they are absorbed again by expat markets coming out of Covid-19restrictions, a new survey suggests.

The Kea Future Aspirations survey of offshore and recently returned members of the Kea community around the world showed a significant number still hoped to return to New Zealand.

Building on the Kea Welcome Home survey data in November which showed a significant number of Kiwis in regions including the UK, Australia, US and Canada intended to return within the next two years, the latest survey showed intentions remained high, but had been delayed from earlier expectations.

“We are still amidst an amazing opportunity benefit from the skills, experience and investment of returning and offshore Kiwi, but frankly, we need to do more as a nation to engage them,” said Kea chief executive Toni Truslove.

“With many of our favoured nations for expats starting to move out of Covid-19 related lockdowns and personal restrictions, there is growing urgency to make the most of this enormous injection of personal capital.”

Productivity Commission chair Ganesh Nana said internationally experienced Kiwis contribute distinctive skills, knowledge and connections that can help lift innovation, national productivity and governance of New Zealand businesses and industries.

The survey of Kea community members was taken between April and June – 4000 responded. There are thought to be around one million New Zealanders living overseas, Kea said.

Findings showed 31 per cent intended to return, 25 per cent of those within two years; 11 per cent were waiting until no managed isolation was required; 69 per cent of those who planned to return would do so permanently; 15 per cent who had come home were considering moving offshore again if they couldn’t find the right employment; and 45 per cent of those remaining offshore were keen to use their overseas experience for the benefit of New Zealand.

Kea World Class New Zealand alumni Rob Fyfe said a key message from the survey was the frustration of returnees and the difficulty posed by a closed border and managed isolation system.

“New Zealand is currently experiencing acute skilled labour shortages across a number of industries and roles. As this survey demonstrates, there is a long queue of highly skilled, experienced and motivated Kiwi expats keen to return to Aotearoa, as soon as the current border and MIQ requirements can be safely reduced.

“This expat talent pool will be immensely valuable to New Zealand’s Covid recovery – we should be doing everything possible to maximise this opportunity.”

Kea said the survey results showed a mismatch between what New Zealand employers are seeking and the experience of offshore candidates.

While 46 per cent of businesses indicated international experience is highly desired and a plus, only 38 per cent of returnees expected local businesses to fully understand and value their overseas experience.

And while local employers suggested returnee wage expectations are too high, returnees said they’d already discounted themselves to meet the market – 52 per cent of returnees indicated they expect to earn less in New Zealand.

Kea’s Truslove said it was up to the employers, trustees and entrepreneurs to engage with exploring Kiwi, to make them welcome and to recognise the potential they present.

New Zealand has the second largest offshore community per capital in the OECD, said Kea, which was founded in 2001 to connect and engage these Kiwis for the benefit of the country.

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