South Africa is home to more than 773 000 Zimbabweans while Botswana has the second highest number of emigrants from the country, with just above 40 000, the government of Zimbabwe has revealed.
The figures were released by Zimbabwe National Statistics Agency (Zimstat) in preliminary results from the national census held in April 2022.
Zimstat in its findings said there were 773 246 Zimbabweans in SA of which 461 293 are men and 311 593 are women.
The report further stated that, "South Africa was the major country of residence for emigrants accounting for 85%, Botswana 5% and the United Kingdom 3%."
The latest figures are way above the number of Zimbabweans who are legally in South Africa.
According to the SA Department of Home Affairs, only 178 000 Zimbabweans living and working in the country were permit holders.
But in 2011, when the Zimbabwean Exemption Permit Holders Association filed a class suit at the Gauteng High Court pushing for holders of special permits to be declared permanent residents, it claimed to be representing 250 000 Zimbabweans.
The figure released by Zimstat is slightly higher than Statistics SA's findings from the 2011 national census which said there were 672 308 Zimbabweans in SA out of a population of 2 188 872 foreign nationals in the country.
According to Zimstat, last year saw the highest number of Zimbabweans leave the country since independence in 1980.
A steady rise since the year 2000 was noted, but after the 2017 coup that dislodged the late Robert Mugabe who died three years ago, there has been a sharp rise in people leaving the country.
The departures are due to economic challenges and the search for better remuneration for skilled people, who are most of the migrants leaving Zimbabwe.
Zimstat said: "Professionals, service and sales workers and crafts and related trades workers accounted for 58% of the emigrants. Eighty-four percent of all the emigrants left the country for employment reasons, 9% left for family reasons, 0.1% were socially displaced."
For years the number of foreign nationals in South Africa has been contentious with Statistics SA putting the figure at 3.95 million, including legal and undocumented foreign nationals.
The United Nations' Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN-DESA) in 2019 said there were 4.2 million foreign nationals in South Africa.