Character Waiver Guide

To obtain a New Zealand visa, whether temporary or residence, all applicants must be of good character, not pose a security risk, and not threaten New Zealand’s international reputation. Immigration New Zealand will not grant visas to people with serious character issues except under very special circumstances, at the discretion of the Immigration Minister.

People flagged for other character issues must have their good character requirement waived before they can be granted residence. Good character criteria vary slightly by category, with the threshold for resident visas being higher than those for temporary visas.

What is a character waiver?

A character waiver is a special consideration from INZ that renders you exempt from the good character requirement that all other applicants must meet when being considered for a New Zealand visa.

How do I apply for a character waiver?

If potentially prejudicial information (PPI) concerning your character comes to light, you’ll receive a PPI letter from INZ stating that you do not meet the character requirements and outlining the reasons why. You may then reply to the PPI letter with a character waiver request, including an explanation of why you should be granted one.

Unless you are seeking a temporary visa application from offshore and have already declared the character issue, you do not need to submit a formal application. Once your character waiver request is accepted, you have 14 days to submit supporting evidence.

Be aware that once INZ receives your supporting evidence, they will then make their decision. This is the final stage of your application. If the outcome is unsuccessful, you will need to appeal or start the visa application process over from the beginning, should you wish to continue pursuing a New Zealand visa.

In making their decision, INZ will consider evidence pertaining to:

  • The seriousness of the offence
  • Whether it was an isolated offence
  • How long ago the offence occurred
  • Whether false, misleading, or forged information was provided and the significance of that information
  • Whether you have family who live in New Zealand
  • Whether you have strong ties to the country, e.g., emotional or financial
  • The significance of your, and your spouse’s, potential contribution to New Zealand

If you have a character issue that you think may prevent INZ from granting you a visa, declare it up front, even if it seems minor. Provide a full explanation, with supporting evidence, when you apply. You may prepare this statement yourself or have a professional advisor do it for you.

INZ will use this information to consider waiving the character requirement or, in rare instances, granting a special direction for very serious character issues.

Please note: ‘Clean slate’ laws from overseas do not exempt you from disclosing past convictions to Immigration New Zealand. You must still declare all charges and convictions, even if they have since been expunged.

How does INZ define ‘serious character issues’ that need special directions?

You will not qualify for a visa if you have been:

  • Convicted of an offence for which you were sentenced to prison for 5 years or more
  • Convicted in the last 10 years of an offence for which you were sentenced to prison for 12 months or more
  • Prohibited from entering New Zealand
  • Removed, excluded, or deported from any country

INZ may also decline your visa if they have reason to believe you may:

  • Commit an offence in New Zealand punishable by imprisonment
  • Be a security risk, threat to public order, or risk to the public interest

What other issues would cause me to fail the good character requirement?

If any of the following apply, you will not meet INZ’s good character requirement and your application will trigger a PPI letter. You will then have the opportunity to explain your circumstances and request a character waiver.

Have you ever…

  • Provided false or misleading information, or withheld material information, when applying for a New Zealand visa, or when supporting another person’s New Zealand visa application?
  • Been convicted of an offence against immigration, citizenship, or passport laws in any country?
  • Been convicted of an offence involving violence, prohibited drugs, or dishonesty?
  • Been convicted of an offence of a sexual nature?
  • Been convicted of an offence for which you were sentenced to a term of imprisonment?
  • While holding a temporary New Zealand visa, or while unlawfully in New Zealand, been convicted of an offence in any country for which the court had the power to imprison you for 3 months or longer?
  • Been convicted in the last 5 years of an offence involving dangerous driving, drunk driving, or driving after consuming drugs?
  • Publicly made a racist statement?
  • Been a member of a racist group?

When to seek help

If you answered yes to any of these questions, we recommend seeking professional legal help immediately. Time is of the essence in building a cohesive case and gathering compelling supporting evidence.

Also seek legal advice if any of the following apply. If not resolved within 6 months, they could delay your application and ultimately result in it being declined:

You are under investigation, wanted for questioning, or have been charged with an offence which, if you are convicted, would be considered a serious character issue or require a character waiver.
Your residence application is based on a relationship to a person whose own New Zealand residence status is under investigation.
There is an active arrest warrant for you in any country.

How we can assist

When compiling supporting evidence, remember that your aim is to convince immigration officials as to why your unique circumstances justify waiving the character requirement that every other visa applicant must meet. It’s not about proving that you’re a nice person or a reformed, repentant individual; it’s about making a case for why any of INZ’s objective criteria isn’t material in your particular case. For example, if an applicant gave misleading information but the information ultimately played no role in your eligibility.

Our immigration lawyers can clearly articulate your case in line with INZ’s criteria: What are the surrounding circumstances of your application? Why are they compelling enough? Why should you still be issued a visa?

If you have serious character issues that disqualify you from obtaining a visa, we can help you properly document the nature of your special circumstances, should you wish to contest the decision.

Because every situation is different, pulling together all the strands to weave a compelling case requires experience, perspective, and creative thinking outside the square. Immigration officers are required by law not to decline a residence case based on character alone and must consider the totality of facts surrounding the case. If they haven’t fully done so, you may still have a chance to win.

Are there situations where I shouldn’t even bother applying?

Because the issues that can trigger a PPI letter – and with it, the need for a character waiver – are so diverse, there aren’t many definitive answers or hard-and-fast rules. A character issue could involve anything from lying on a previous application to a criminal charge from many years ago.

A case turns on its individual facts – there are no absolutes – so each one must be evaluated on a case-by-case basis and looked at in its totality. One person’s drink driving conviction from four years ago may disqualify them from gaining a visa, whereas another person with a similar conviction may still be granted a visa. It will all depend on a multiplicity of other factors, including what you bring to the table as a potential resident and the nature of any existing relationships you have in New Zealand. That’s why the best advice is to seek the best advice – from a qualified immigration law professional.

If you’ve recently received a PPI letter or have concerns about meeting INZ’s good character requirements, contact the immigration law experts at NZIL today.

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