New Zealanders are walking away from their homes in Dubai, driving to the international airport and abandoning their cars with keys in the ignition, as the golden times suddenly end in the towering emirate.

In London, redundant bank traders - once the young Masters of the Universe - take the Underground's Piccadilly Line to Heathrow when they fly out.

Statistics NZ figures show increased numbers of Kiwis returning home (24,500 in the past year to April) though the numbers have not yet reached the heights of 1991 or 2003.

The upsurge is on the flights from the UK, China, Canada, the US and, of course, the United Arab Emirates.

The Department of Labour says this will boost the housing and construction industries. But, at the same time, it means tougher competition for jobs.

The flight home to New Zealand has been unexpected and infuriating for people like Hamilton's Nicholas Down, 43.

When he started work at a Dubai real estate company last year, the first villa he sold was in the city's luxurious Palms development. The buyer paid 60 million dirhams ($30 million) in hard cash. It took three days to count, Down says.

But when the money dried up and his company hired Russian estate agents to offer added inducements - entertaining potential buyers with prostitutes - then Down objected. So his bosses gave him one month's notice.

Down, his wife and two children arrived home in December, after emptying out their Dubai apartment and leaving the car at the airport. He did, at least, mail the keys back to his former employer.

The family was lucky to own a home in Hamilton, and Down went on unemployment benefit until he was able to find work with a receivership company.

Dubai police say they have towed 3000 abandoned cars from the airport carpark - and it's not over yet. There are reportedly 90,000 one-way tickets booked out next month.

Among them are James Hamilton and his family, who will return home when the Dubai school year ends. Hamilton was made redundant from his aviation logistics job in November, but he and his Canadian wife were unable to sell their three-bedroom villa until last month.

"What has struck me most is how quick it hit," he said. "Overnight, construction stopped. People were made redundant from the big corporations, and they were gone within a week."

Hamilton, 35, still hopes to return to Dubai some day. The family is putting some furniture in storage there. In the meantime he will look for work here, using his experience to advise companies on how to trade in the Middle East.