There has been a 40 percent increase in Americans applying for NZ visas, in the months ahead of today’s polarised US election

It used to be that however bad things got on Election Day in the US, there was a silver lining for New Zealand tourism and immigration: the jaded Democrats promising to up sticks for kindly New Zealand, or the angry-but-wealthy conservatives planning to hole up in subterranean bunkers in central Otago.

Just this week, former Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell, out on the hustings with Biden, said that if Trump won re-election, he would consider moving here. 

“I want to look into moving to New Zealand,” he told WHYY News. “They have a nice woman president, she seems to be very able. New Zealand, I saw ‘Lord of the Rings.’ New Zealand’s a beautiful country.”

But when even Kiwis aren’t able to return through Managed Isolation in time for Christmas (as Newsroom’s Marc Daalder first revealed), Rendell and other Americans will just have to cool their heels and get Covid-19 under control.

Should New Zealand open its doors to American refugees fleeing today’s election result, on humanitarian grounds? Click here to comment.

The latest Immigration NZ figures, supplied to Newsroom Pro, reveal a big uptick in New Zealand Now website inquiries from the United States this year.

While Covid-19 has meant Australians, Indians and South Africans are hunkering down, there has been a slight interest in moving or investing here from Brits – and a massive 40 percent increase in inquiries from Americans, compared with last year.

There were  282,600 inquiries from Americans from March to June this year – up from 201,200 in the same period last year.

Those who did apply for visas were, on the most part, bound for disappointment. “There were very few visa applications accepted for processing during New Zealand’s Covid-19 Alert Levels 3 and 4 when processing capacity was very limited,” said a MBIE spokesperson.

Immigration NZ processed 3170 temporary visa applications from Americans, from April to July this year, and 396 residential applications.

“As per New Zealand’s border restrictions, Immigration New Zealand is processing applications for applicants that meet the strict border exception criteria to enter New Zealand,” the spokesperson said.

A Google analyst said search interest in moving to New Zealand spiked sharply on Monday and Tuesday evening, NZ time, ahead of polling day.

“Aggregated over the year to date, search interest for ‘move to New Zealand’ has never been higher in the US,” she said. “Year on year, interest has increased 172 per cent as compared with 2019, while compared with 2016 – the previous highest year on record – interest is up 33 per cent.”

So are all these Americans tying to flee Trump, or flee Biden?

Beverly Bartlett, a minister in New York City, is one of those who has been looking up information on how to emigrate to New Zealand, when she hears reports that Trump could still win the electoral college.

But at least for now, she tells The Guardian she’s trying to live by Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s example.

The German theologian, who considered seeking refuge in the US during the second world war, instead returned to Germany as part of the resistance and was later executed.

“As much as I might want to leave, it is a privilege to even be able to think about it,” Bartlett said. “It’s probably better to stay here and continue to fight it, knowing that most people can’t leave.”

Or, in the words of US expat Juniper Nichols in New Plymouth, in a letter to the Los Angeles Time: “Instead of telling you how to flee, I must say what my mom did when I told her that her grandchildren were moving to the other side of the world: Stay and fight – and not with your gun, but with your vote.”

Newsroom Pro managing editor Jonathan Milne covers business, politics and the economy.

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