BNZ chief economist Tony Alexander told TVNZ’s Q+A programme that the underutilisation of returning migrants is costing the country in terms of potential export growth.
“So, often we may start a company in New Zealand, we look to expand overseas, but we come back with our tails between our legs because we’re not used to the business culture, for instance, overseas. We may not be able to make good decisions about what distributors, franchise operators to pick up overseas. And yet what those expats can offer is a higher degree of connectivity with interested parties offshore, and of course a bit more of, I guess, an internationalised world view. They’re a bit hardened. They know a bit more of the ways of people overseas.”
Around 24,000 Kiwis return home each year and Tony Alexander says we need to do more to harness their talent and experience.
“What they have is an expectation, I think, when they come back that the skills, the experience they’ve picked up overseas will be highly valued, that surely employers would be queuing up in order to offer them jobs. But what they find is that often the employers are just a wee bit shy of them. They’re wary that maybe they’re going to leave again within six, 12 months or so. They’re wary that maybe they’re just going to be a wee bit of an assertive nature for the culture that they may have in their company already in New Zealand. So the expatriates find that they’re not as highly valued as they think they should be, quite frankly.”
Researcher and Brand Strategist Tracey Lee spent 12 years overseas and has recently completed her Master’s thesis on return migration. She says the issue is becoming more important as Kiwis stay away longer, in many cases upwards of five, seven or 10 years.
“So it’s something that New Zealanders often internalise, and they’re like, “OK, I’m having a tough time. I’m doing something wrong.” And I think— And they are coming up against, as Tony touched on in terms of the professionalism, they are coming across this sense of “not invented here”. Like, they’ll say, “We’re not really interested in your fancy foreign ways.” So they’re trying to negotiate this. I think not necessarily— I don’t think necessarily everyone’s looking for replicating their lives overseas.”
Tony Alexander says there's a definite wave in terms of people going to Australia coming back, “and what we’re seeing at the moment is that net flow has changed by about 5000 in the past year. Fewer Kiwis are going; more are coming back. And I think we’re going to see a lot more of that when we see our unemployment rate a year ago was at 6.7%, now at 6.2%. We’re heading down to 5%. A year ago Australia was 5%. They’re now 5.5%. Maybe they’re heading towards 6%. The bright light has gone out a bit in the minerals development sector, so, yeah, we’re going to see a lot more Kiwis returning especially.”
The BNZ economist says many return migrants are surprised by the high price of housing here, “and what I’ve been having to point out to them is that the longer they wait, the higher the price is likely to go, because this is overwhelmingly – as the other speakers have already said earlier on this morning – it’s a supply issue. There's a shortage. The shortage is getting worse every month.”
Watch the full Q+A panel discussion here.
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