During the pandemic, a population the size of a city returned home to New Zealand. Now it appears a population the size of a small town has already left.
Statistics New Zealand data show a net migration loss of 7300 people in the year ended March.
With the borders due to fully reopen two months earlier than the Government had planned, the battle is on to retain and attract people.
Immigration changes, including pathways to residency for highly skilled workers, have been announced.
The migration result follows the loss of 1700 people in 2021 and a huge record net gain of 91,700 in 2020 - the first year of the Covid pandemic's impact.
Stats NZ population indicators manager Tehseen Islam said because of the pandemic border restrictions, "migrant arrivals have dropped to levels seen in the mid-1980s and migrant departures have dropped to levels seen in the mid-1990s".
Non-citizens are driving the loss although "the net gain of 2100 New Zealand citizens in the March 2022 year was down from a net gain of 16,000 in the March 2021 year, due to an increase in those departing overseas long term, and fewer arriving long term".
The pandemic resulted in a brain gain for a country more used to brain drains.
A total of 229,862 people returned through the MIQ system after March 26, 2020, according to the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment.
In 2020, New Zealand had unique advantages: competent official handling of the initial wave of the pandemic, enviable safety at a time when there were no vaccines, and long stretches of time when people could go about life without fear of the virus.
The country's traditional disadvantage of being at the bottom of the world and a long-haul flight away from major cities was a temporary benefit as other countries were flooded with the virus.
A study in 2021 found New Zealand had produced the best health results and better than average economic performance compared to other OECD countries.
Even now, the country's death toll for the entire pandemic per million people is one of the lowest in the world - better than comparable countries in the region such as Australia, Japan and Singapore, which have also done well overall.
But because of Omicron, Australia and New Zealand also currently have among the highest rates of new cases per million people on a seven-day rolling average in the world.
Daily case numbers here are stubbornly steady at around 10,000.
Elsewhere, from Europe to North and South America and the Middle East, case rates are low. Globally, the weekly trends for both cases and deaths are downward. Airlines and airports are seeing a sudden uptick in business.
So as New Zealand is speeding up its border reopening timetable, the rest of the world is mostly in a stable place in the pandemic - although a global drop-off in testing now makes confirmed case figures less reliable and China's outbreak could destabilise the situation.
Essentially, New Zealand is back where it normally is: competing for skilled workers, international students and tourists with many other countries.
Our small population size, isolation from major economic and cultural regions, and closeness to Australia consistently make it hard to retain people and invest in our future here. Australia, with 26 million people, can get worthwhile long-term projects with the aim of improving life off the ground.
Longer term, chronic troubles elsewhere in the world and technological changes could gradually increase New Zealand's attractiveness to workers and businesses.
In the latest statistics, young Kiwis are predictably driving the move away, with a net migration loss of 1800 citizens aged 18 to 27. This compares to small gains in 2021 and 2020. Most of the non-citizens leaving were aged 18 to 33.
This is a return to pre-pandemic trends, when the annual net loss of citizens was dominated by people in their 20s.
From a brain gain, it's back to the brain drain.