Astronaut Families and Cosmonaut Couples

Astronaut Families and Cosmonaut Couples (pdf)
01 May 2000

“Astronaut migration” is a migration pattern first identified in the 1980s and refers to migrants who, after taking up residence, spend lengthy periods out of New Zealand. Typically, astronauts are believed to return to their country of origin to work or do business, leaving their spouses and children in New Zealand. “Cosmonaut migration” refers to childless migrants who engage in astronaut-like practices. The small amount of literature existing on the subject suggests that astronaut migrants tend to be from North Asia and that the practice is a consequence of an array of factors, including migrants’ inability to find suitable employment in New Zealand. To begin assessing the astronaut phenomenon, this research provides information on the incidence and characteristics of astronaut migration. 


The objectives of the research were to determine the incidence and character of astronaut and cosmonaut migration to New Zealand. The project was undertaken in two parts. The first was a quantitative analysis of the time migrants spent out of New Zealand after taking up residence. The second was a review of the literature on astronaut migration.


The quantitative research tracked the movements of a cohort of General Skills and business migrants approved for residence between 1 July 1997 and 31 December 1997. The proportion of time members of migrant families had spent out of New Zealand since taking up residence was calculated.

Key Results

The main finding was that while many migrants spent some time out of New Zealand, few with families were out of New Zealand for extended periods. The number of people included in applications appeared to be inversely proportional to the incidence of astronaut migration. The finding that the incidence of astronaut and cosmonaut migration was low needs to be considered within the context of a number of limitations. First, the analysis only included families and couples where all applicants in the residence application took up New Zealand residence. Second, during the latter part of the 1990s, measures to discourage the formation of astronaut families were introduced. Finally, the behaviour of a cohort of migrants approved for residence in 1997 may, or may not, be generalisable to subsequent cohorts.

Page last modified: 15 Mar 2018