WELLINGTON, New Zealand â€” It’s one thing to talk about changing allegiance to another country when a new president is elected. It’s another thing to go ahead and do it.
But that’s exactly what seems to be happening, at least in one distant corner of the world.
In New Zealand, the number of Americans who applied for a grant of citizenship rose by 70 per cent in the 12 weeks following the election of President Donald Trump when compared to the same period a year earlier, immigration records obtained by The Associated Press show.
Figures also show the number of Americans who obtained a New Zealand work visa in January was up 18 per cent from a year earlier, as was the number of Americans who visited the country.
In New Zealand, a grant of citizenship is the pathway for people without a family connection. Among those Americans with a New Zealand parent, citizenship applications after the election were up 11 per cent from a year earlier.
In response to an AP freedom of information request, New Zealand’s Department of Internal Affairs said that in the two days after the U.S. election in November, the number of Americans who visited its website to find out about citizenship was up more than tenfold from the same two weekdays a month earlier.
To be sure, the total number of Americans applying for New Zealand citizenship remains relatively low. The country is more than 10,000 kilometres (6,000 miles) from the mainland U.S. and is perhaps best known for its majestic landscapes. Farming remains central to the economy, with sheep outnumbering the 4.8 million people by about six to one.
Trump made a brief reference to the country during the election campaign when a New Zealand television reporter asked him what the election would mean for the South Pacific country.
“Say hello to Bob Charles. I love Bob Charles,” Trump replied. “Do you know who Bob Charles is? Your greatest golfer.” Charles won the British Open in 1963.
Some Americans living in New Zealand say their friends and family have been asking them about moving there since the election.
Alanna Irving, 33, a technology startup entrepreneur from San Francisco, moved to New Zealand six years ago and has since married a kiwi, as the locals are known.
“It’s an extremely livable place and you can see and palpably feel the difference in how society is organized, and what people prioritize,” she said. “New Zealand is a place that cares about equality, I think more. It’s less individualistic, more community-minded.”
She said that a friend of a friend was so disturbed by the outcome of the election that he immediately jumped on a plane and flew to New Zealand to check it out as a possible place to live. Irving said his visit exceeded his expectations.
“So that was really symbolic to me that there were people in the United States who feel like things are going in a very different direction than they want for their future, or for their children, and they’re looking to New Zealand as perhaps an alternative,” she said.
Most Americans who apply for New Zealand citizenship must first live in the country for five years.
Cameron Pritchard, an immigration consultant at Malcolm Pacific Immigration in Wellington, said the increase in citizenship applications could be a result of people wanting to feel more settled in their adopted country, given the uncertain nature of the world.
It’s about “getting a bit more security or really making a longer-term decision that New Zealand is the place they want to call home,” he said.
He said his company noticed a big spike in inquiries from the U.S. during the election.
“It’s been more of a flurry of excitement initially than anything that’s translated into a huge avalanche of numbers,” he said.
Irving said she plans to apply for New Zealand citizenship this year and doesn’t foresee ever returning to live in the U.S. She said she misses the excitement that some U.S. innovators and companies can offer, although technology allows her to stay connected with that world.
But, she added, there’s one thing she misses that can’t be replicated online: The great Mexican food that’s available in the U.S.
By the numbers:
Americans applying for New Zealand citizenship by grant:
Nov. 8, 2016, to Jan. 31, 2017: 170
Nov. 8, 2015, to Jan. 31, 2016: 100
Americans applying for New Zealand citizenship by descent:
Nov. 8, 2016, to Jan. 31, 2017: 203
Nov. 8, 2015, to Jan. 31, 2016: 183
Citizenship-related visits to Department of Internal Affairs website from the U.S.:
Nov. 8 to Nov. 10, 2016: 4,146
Oct. 4 to Oct. 6, 2016: 305
Work-visa arrivals from the U.S.:
Jan. 2017: 254
Jan. 2016: 216
Visitor arrivals from the U.S.:
Jan. 2017: 34,240
Jan. 2016: 28,992
Source: Department of Internal Affairs, Statistics New Zealand
Nick Perry, The Associated Press