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Immigration changes make it easier for some visa holders to return to New Zealand

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The Government is making some changes to immigration settings including creating a new border exception category to enable the return of some temporary work visa holders who are overseas and have strong, ongoing links to New Zealand. The Government is also making changes to allow some partners of New Zealand citizens and residents to be able to reunite in New Zealand.

The announced changes include:

  1. New border exception category for normally-resident temporary work visa holders
  2. Extension of travel conditions for offshore resident visa holders
  3. Changes to border exception criteria for Australian and visa waiver partners of New Zealand citizens and residents

1. New border exception category for some normally resident temporary work visa holders

A number of temporary work visa holders were overseas when our border closed and so do not meet current criteria to be granted a border exception. Some of these individuals have lived and worked in New Zealand and have a strong on-going connection. This new category will enable a limited number to return to New Zealand.

It is expected that individuals will be able to start requesting a border exception under this category from early October 2020.

To be considered for the new border exception and to demonstrate a strong and ongoing connection to New Zealand with realistic prospects of remaining here long-term, visa holders must:

  • have been living in New Zealand for at least two years (or one year in some specific cases), and
  • be returning to the same job they held before departing New Zealand, or to continue to operate a business in New Zealand as part of an entrepreneur work visa, and
  • have departed New Zealand on or after 1 December 2019, and
  • when they departed New Zealand have held either a Work to Residence visa, or  an Essential Skills visa (assessed as mid-skilled or higher-skilled) that does not expire before the end of 2020 (or, if it is expiring before end of 2020, they must have applied for a further visa on the basis of the same job when they left that allows them to remain in New Zealand for 12 months or more before 10 August 2020).

All individuals who are granted this exception will still be required to spend 14 days in managed isolation or quarantine (MIQ). Temporary visa holders who were ordinarily resident in New Zealand in the last 12 months and left New Zealand on or before 19 March 2020 are exempt from MIQ charges. Any temporary visa holders who left New Zealand after 19 March 2020 will be required to pay for their MIQ.

2. Extension of travel conditions for offshore resident visa holders

The Minister of Immigration has agreed to extend the travel conditions of some offshore resident visas for 12 months and to grant a new 12 month resident visa to holders of recently-expired resident visas. Individuals with travel conditions about to expire will receive a 12 month extension to travel to New Zealand.

Individuals whose travel conditions expired on or after 2 February 2020 will be issued a new visa valid for 12 months. Relevant visa holders will be advised by email by the end of September. Individuals who have not been able to travel to New Zealand under the current border restrictions (including people granted residence offshore wanting to travel to New Zealand for the first time) will still need a border exception before they can travel to New Zealand.

Why we are making this change People who are granted a resident visa while they are not in New Zealand must travel to New Zealand within a 12 month timeframe to activate their resident visa. People who are granted a resident visa in New Zealand can have their resident visa expire if they are outside New Zealand 24 months after it was granted.

Due to the current border restrictions, many individuals have not been able to travel or return to New Zealand within the relevant timeframe. As a result, their visa has expired or will soon expire. This change will help alleviate concerns for these visa holders. The Government recognises that these individuals have recently met residence criteria and there would be no question of their ability to be in and contribute to New Zealand had they arrived before the borders closed.

3. Changes to border exception criteria for Australian and visa waiver partners of New Zealand citizens and residents

The Government has agreed to change the approach to â€˜partner of New Zealand citizen or resident’ to consider granting visas for Australian partners of New Zealand citizens or residents, and partners from visa waiver countries. This will mean that these partners may be granted a border exception if they can provide relationship evidence as part of their border exception request.

Australian partners who are granted this border exception will be given a Critical Purpose Visitor visa to allow them to travel to New Zealand. They will then generally be issued a Resident visa on arrival, in line with normal immigration policy.

Partners from visa waiver countries who are granted this border exception will be invited to apply for a Critical Purpose Visitor visa. If granted, they will then be able to apply for a further visa, including a relationship-based visa, while in New Zealand. This change will come into effect in early October. Dependent children may be included in the same border exception request.

The current border exceptions only allow for partners and dependents of New Zealand citizens and residents to be granted an exception to the border restrictions if they are travelling with their New Zealand citizen or resident family member, or have a relationship-based visa, or are ordinarily resident in New Zealand. Australian citizens have not previously needed a relationship-based visa to enter New Zealand as they are generally granted a resident visa on arrival in New Zealand. This has meant a number of Australian citizen partners are not able to meet the requirements for a border exception and therefore are not able to travel to New Zealand while the border restrictions are in place. 

All individuals will be required to spend 14 days in managed isolation and quarantine and to cover the associated costs.

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