New border exception category permitted entry to New Zealand

Last month, the government announced it would allow some overseas work visa holders who have strong, ongoing links to New Zealand to re-enter the country. This new category is now open for expressions of interest.

Applicants for this border exception must be able to show that they have retained their job (complying with their existing visa conditions). 

Only those who departed between 1 December 2019 and 9 October 2020 and hold an Entrepreneur Work Visa, Work to Residence Visa, or Essential Skills Work Visa (mid-skilled, high-skilled, or paid $25.50 or more per hour) are eligible. Further criteria must also be met (see below).

Pool announcement
Those seeking an exception must submit an expression of interest (EOI) to be put into a pool. EOI will be drawn from the pool in order of date received, at which time the person drawn will be invited to apply for their re-entry visa.

Around 7,000 people can be in managed isolation at any one time, and anyone entering the country is expected to use the Managed Isolation Allocation System to secure their 14-day stay in a managed isolation facility. The government is expecting up to 850 visa holders may be eligible and will monitor numbers.

“We are now starting to be able to make adjustments to our COVID-impacted immigration settings, which will allow a small number of people who, under normal circumstances, had the right to come to New Zealand to do so now,” said Minister of Immigration Kris Faafoi.

“That requires balancing the numbers of people returning with the capacity to manage them in isolation facilities so we can keep COVID-19 contained.”

What are the new conditions?

To be considered for the new border exception, work visa holders must demonstrate realistic prospects of remaining here long-term and:

  • still hold their job in New Zealand or continue to operate a business in New Zealand
  • held a Work to Residence Visa, an Essential Skills Visa not subject to the stand-down period, or an Entrepreneur Work Visa when they left New Zealand
  • have departed New Zealand on or after 1 December 2019
  • had a work visa that expired on or after 1 January 2021 or had applied for a new visa before 9 August seeking a 12-month stay to work in the same capacity as detailed on the old visa (see our comment)
  • had been living in New Zealand for at least 8 months of the year during the two years prior to their departure, or meet other criteria that demonstrate a connection to New Zealand, including having lodged a residence application 

What does this mean for migrants?

Finally, after seven months, the government is beginning to address the hardship faced by migrants who were offshore when the borders closed. It’s been a long wait. The prospect of being reunited with loved ones and resuming gainful employment is encouraging but, sadly, for some, there won’t be any relief under these new rules.

Those applying under this category must secure an employer declaration regarding the state of the employment relationship and its continuity during the time they were offshore. And, as is usually the case, there are some potential snags:

Those who left on a visa expiring before 1 January 2021 must have applied for a visa to extend their stay for 12 months before 9 August. For Essential Skills work visa holders who already have their 12-month visa and could only seek another six months without advertising, this could spell trouble. 

The system for gaining entry is frustratingly convoluted. Cryptically, the rules for those who left with a visa expiring before 1 January 2021 indicate that if their current visa application was submitted before 9 August, that application “is approved.” How could that be possible when INZ suspended the processing of offshore applications shortly after the border closed?

The employment relationship must also have been maintained the whole time, yet there is no indication of how this is measured. Will this cause issues for those on unpaid leave? 

These restricted temporary entry instructions allow immigration officers no discretion and include a lot of unexplained terminology that makes it difficult for people to judge whether they qualify. This will need further clarification. Furthermore, INZ’s obligation to inform the Minister if it appears likely that more than 850 visas will be needed suggests a limited understanding of the extent of the border closure problem.

Need help navigating these new rules? Contact Aaron Martin at New Zealand Immigration Law for helpful expert advice.


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