WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — Australia's warmer climate and higher wages have long lured droves of New Zealanders across the Tasman Sea with the aim of making a better life in the "lucky country."
But with Australia's economy stumbling and New Zealand's improving, the trend has begun to reverse.
New Zealand figures released Thursday showed that in April, for the first time in 24 years, 100 more people moved east from Australia to New Zealand than moved in the opposite direction.
The trend has been emerging for some time. Two years ago, a net 34,000 New Zealanders moved to Australia. That fell to 11,000 last year and to 1,900 in the most recent data for this year.
An agreement between Australia and New Zealand allows citizens of both nations to live and work in either country.
In New Zealand, the loss of its people over decades to its larger neighbor has proved a political sore point.
In 2008, when the current prime minister John Key was the leader of the political opposition, he stood in an empty sports stadium in Wellington to illustrate the thousands of people who were leaving each year and vowed to turn that around.
Robert Muldoon, who was prime minister in the 1970s and '80s, once quipped that the exodus raised the average IQ of both countries.
But now, the turnaround may pose new political challenges. The figures released Thursday show record annual immigration of 57,000 people to New Zealand, which added more than 1 percent to the population of 4.5 million. Many people believe immigration is helping fuel skyrocketing home prices in the largest city, Auckland.
Australia's economy has been struggling after the price of iron ore, its most lucrative export, slumped due to a slowdown in China's economy. Still, Australia's debt level remains low compared with most countries and its standard of living higher than in New Zealand.
New Zealand has been enjoying relatively strong economic growth, and its unemployment rate has dropped to 5.8 percent, below Australia's rate of 6.2 percent. But it, too, faces economic challenges, including lower prices for its agricultural exports due to the slowdown in China.