For the first time, the country has a net gain of 16,000 New Zealand citizens, according to new research published by the Helen Clark Foundation.
"For more than 20 years we've had a net loss of New Zealand citizens every year but the Covid-19 pandemic has really given us the opportunity to rewrite that story," researcher Holly Walker told Morning Report.
But rather than a brain gain, with borders closed, people simply aren't leaving.
"I suppose you could call it a brain retention," she said.
"We could be posed for a reversal in that [brain drain] trend because many offshore New Zealanders are considering returning home when things begin to open up."
Walker cites a Kea New Zealand survey which found 31 percent of New Zealanders overseas said they planned to come home in the next couple of years.
"There's a huge opportunity for Aotearoa New Zealand in this," she says, but New Zealand needs to be more welcoming to citizens returning home - something we haven't traditionally been great at doing.
"We have one of the largest diasporas in the OECD, perhaps up to a million New Zealanders and their families living overseas. They tend to be very highly skilled and very highly educated so a huge potential contribution to make if they do return but we need to make sure we're ready to welcome them when they do."
This means valuing their experiences, she said.
"Many people who have returned in the last year talk about finding their international experience isn't perhaps very well understood or well valued by New Zealand employers.
"We can do better too at removing some of the barriers that make it difficult to return."
Providing good information about the portability of their qualifications and superannuation is important, she said.
As is information for migrating spouses and the education system.
Many people will have been living in world class cities with very good urban transport and sustainable design, she said.
"We haven't invested in the urban infrastructure we need in New Zealand in the past."