Almost half of Kiwis working overseas make more than $100,000 a year - and they are split on whether they want to come home.

A quarter say they have no wish to return to New Zealand to live, but 27 per cent are looking for work here.

The figures, from a survey of New Zealand workers overseas, put the spotlight again on the number of Kiwis leaving the country.

The transtasman exodus was an election issue last month, and the survey shows that the first choice of those who have gone overseas is Australia (35 per cent), followed by the United Kingdom (27 per cent).

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More than 15,000 expats responded to the online survey, conducted by Kea New Zealand, a non-profit organisation that seeks to keep Kiwis connected while they're living abroad.

It found New Zealanders overseas are highly educated - only 1 per cent do not have a formal qualification.

Forty-six per cent make more than $100,000 a year, and one in five respondents aged over 50 is making more than $200,000.

Only 3.8 per cent of New Zealand's population make more than $100,000 a year, according to the last Census, in 2006.

Thirty-three per cent of respondents said they moved overseas to seek a job or better economic prospects.

Kea chief executive Dr Sue Watson said the findings could be viewed in two ways.

"There's the negative of the brain drain, which is assuming they go and never come back and maintain no connection with New Zealand.

"But what the survey [shows] is that, yes, we do export talent from New Zealand ... because it's the smart educated people who are going. But the people who filled out the survey have said they want to help New Zealand grow from where they are."

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At least 600,000 New Zealanders live overseas, including almost one in four of all highly educated Kiwis - the highest proportion of any OECD nation.

Prime Minister John Key made the transtasman exodus an issue during the 2008 election when he was Leader of the Opposition. This year, he was criticised by Labour after statistics revealed the flow of departing Kiwis had increased under his watch.

A survey last month found more than a quarter of young teenagers wanted to leave New Zealand, but a spokesman for Mr Key said at the time that the findings meant teens were keen to head off on their OE.

Labour leader Phil Goff said then that it was "a real tragedy our young people feel like they don't have a future here".

"More than 100,000 Kiwis have fled to Australia under John Key's watch. We're losing our best and brightest."

Yesterday, Dr Watson said the number of qualified New Zealanders going overseas was in line with a worldwide trend of "very talented" people who had an international focus.

"They're very mobile talent. They might pop back to New Zealand for five years, then they might go across to Sydney, then maybe on to London."

Only 14 per cent of the survey respondents said they would or were likely to return home permanently.

Twenty-three per cent had not decided if they wanted to return permanently, and 24 per cent said they were likely to stay overseas.

"The main reason that Kiwis give for coming home to New Zealand is lifestyle, culture and family - so they're not coming home for salaries, for the big jobs," Dr Watson said.

"However, those skilled expats are likely to be able to get those high-paid and highly skilled jobs back in New Zealand."

Kea was trying to use the expertise of those educated people while they were overseas to help expand New Zealand companies.

But when survey respondents were asked how they saw New Zealand's progress in the next 10 years, more than half selected "Things will get better in New Zealand, but I am concerned that it won't reach its full potential".

And 14 per cent expected New Zealand to move backwards a little.

Dr Watson said the significant events this year - including the Canterbury earthquakes, the Rugby World Cup and the general election - meant New Zealanders overseas made more contact with home than ever before.

"We had some of our highest rates of engagement around the time of the earthquakes this year."

'THE OPPORTUNITIES DON'T COMPARE... '

A young New Zealand entrepreneur who lost his office in the Christchurch earthquakes has tripled his profits since he moved to the United States.

Guy Horrocks, 27, moved to New York this year to expand his mobile app-maker company, Carnival Labs.

Since his move, he has gained international clients including Kraft Foods, HBO and Pepsi and has just finished working with Dreamworks promoting the film Puss in Boots.

"The opportunities here just don't compare ... while we're out here we can meet with clients face-to-face. You can't really put a value on that - it's huge."

Mr Horrocks has increased his business profits by 300 per cent in the last six months.

Now living in San Francisco, he said his move overseas was permanent.

The calibre of the clients he had worked for since being in the United States was unmatched in New Zealand.

But he is still helping to build New Zealand's economy by sending contracts won in the US back to his company's base in Wellington.

Poojitha Preena moved from Auckland to California on a whim in 2000 when he was 25.

"I was very keen on technology and it was very clear to me that the centre of the technology universe was not in New Zealand."

Now 36, he has come a long way. He has his own consultancy company and invests in up-and-coming internet companies.

Mr Preena said he was well within the group of New Zealanders who made more than $100,000 a year, and that the starting rate in the US for a web consultant was more than $140,000 a year.

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