The Government has announced a series of changes to our border rules, including the creation of a new "exception category" to enable the return of some temporary work visa holders currently overseas but with strong ongoing links to this country.
The business community has been pushing hard for this measure. The Government estimates about 850 people may be eligible for this exception category.
Also on Wednesday the Government said it would make changes to current border exception rules to allow some partners of New Zealand citizens and residents to be able to reunite in New Zealand.
Additionally, the Government is making changes to help new residents stuck offshore keep their residency status while Covid-19 travel restrictions remain in place. People granted a resident visa must travel to NZ within a certain timeframe to activate their visa. The Government is giving a 12-month extension for people affected by the border closure.
And, separately, the Government is providing a $50 million funding boost to Customs to employ more staff to expand border surveillance, "further strengthening the Government’s defence against Covid-19".
On the new border exception for returning temporary work visa holders, Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi said visa holders, who must have retained their job or business in New Zealand, plus their partners and dependent children, will be able to apply for this exception from early October when the new category opens.
“Many of these visa holders and their families have lived in New Zealand for years and have built lives here with the hope and expectation that they would be able to stay longer-term in New Zealand. It is only fair to let these visa holders return given their long-standing and ongoing connections to this country."
The business community warmly welcomed the move.
“This is a real breakthrough for migrants who meet the criteria and gives their farm employers certainty to plan for the future,” DairyNZ chief executive Tim Mackle said.
“We thank the government for listening to the sector’s calls for these highly skilled people to return. They contribute to the dairy sector’s success, are invaluable for their experience and skills, and are important for training incoming Kiwi staff.”
BusinessNZ said businesses were looking forward to "getting skilled workers stuck abroad, back to work".
"Allowing skilled workers and business owners back into the country will be a relief to many businesses that have found valuable staff stuck outside the country due to the circumstances of Covid," BusinessNZ chief executive Kirk Hope said.
"It is critical that businesses are given every opportunity to recover from the impacts of Covid, and in many cases this means being able to utilise workers from overseas that have made their homes in New Zealand and are members of our local communities.
"It is good to see the border starting to open up, and we look forward to this progression continuing as we balance risk mitigation and management at the border with the critical workers we need from overseas."
The border-related announcements released by the Government on Wednesday are below:
New border exception for normally resident work visa holders
The Government is 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 Minister of Immigration, Kris Faafoi, has announced that visa holders, who must have retained their job or business in New Zealand, plus their partners and dependent children, will be able to apply for this exception from early October when the new category opens.
“Many of these visa holders and their families have lived in New Zealand for years and have built lives here with the hope and expectation that they would be able to stay longer-term in New Zealand. It is only fair to let these visa holders return given their long-standing and ongoing connections to this country.
“We are keen to give them certainty and welcome them back to New Zealand,” Kris Faafoi said.
“To date, the Government’s priority has been to facilitate the return of New Zealand citizens and permanent residents. Since April more than 40,000 New Zealanders have come home.
“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.
“That requires balancing the numbers of people returning with the capacity to manage them in isolation facilities so we can keep COVID-19 contained.
“We have the ability to cope with around 7000 people in managed isolation at any one time and those who fit the specific criteria of this new normally resident border exception category are now able to be managed within our system alongside returning citizens and permanent residents.
“In order to manage flows of returnees into Managed Isolation, they will also be expected to use the managed isolation allocation system when it goes live,” Kris Faafoi said.
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:
- still hold their job in New Zealand, or continue to operate a business in New Zealand
- hold either a work to residence visa, or an essential skills visa that is not subject to the stand-down period, or an entrepreneur visa
- have departed New Zealand on or after 1 December 2019
- have lived in New Zealand for at least two years, or, if living in New Zealand for at least one year, have one of the following:
- an entrepreneur work visa and operating a business in New Zealand (and operated it before departing New Zealand)
- their dependent children with them in New Zealand (for at least six months)
- parents or adult siblings who are ordinarily resident in New Zealand
- submitted an application for residence by 31 July 2020
- have held a visa at the time of departing that does not expire before the end of 2020, or, if expiring before that date, have applied for a further visa by 10 August 2020.
The Government is expecting up to 850 visa holders may be eligible for this category and it will monitor numbers.
Border changes to help reunite New Zealanders with their loved ones
The Government is making changes to current border exception rules to allow some partners of New Zealand citizens and residents to be able to reunite in New Zealand.
“Many people living overseas, who are partners of New Zealand citizens and residents, are not covered by our current travel exceptions,” Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi said.
“For example, Australians can normally enter and live in New Zealand without having to apply for a visa. Partners from 61 visa waiver countries would need a visa to live here but could visit without having to hold a visa,” Kris Faafoi said.
“But under COVID border restrictions, partners of New Zealand citizens and residents wanting to enter this country need to have either a relationship-based visa, or be travelling with their New Zealand citizen or resident family member, or be ordinarily resident in New Zealand.
“As more New Zealanders return from overseas, we want to enable them to be reunited with their loved ones here in New Zealand while also ensuring that only genuine partnerships are given that right,” Kris Faafoi said.
“The Government has had to operate tight border restrictions to prioritise the return of New Zealanders while keeping the COVID-19 virus contained. But we are now in a position where we can make some adjustments to our immigration settings which will allow a small number of people who, under normal circumstances, would have the right to come to New Zealand to do so now,” Kris Faafoi said.
Under changes being introduced from early October, Australian citizens or citizens of visa waiver countries living outside New Zealand, but who are partners of New Zealand citizens and residents, may be granted an exception to travel to New Zealand.
“They will be required to submit a border exception request and demonstrate that they are in a genuine and stable relationship.
“Australian partners, if granted a border exception, will be automatically issued a Critical Purpose Visitor visa to allow them to travel to New Zealand and they will receive a resident visa on arrival; in line with usual immigration policy for Australians,” Minister Faafoi said.
Partners from visa-waiver countries, if granted a border exception, will be invited to apply for a six-month Critical Purpose Visitor visa. Applicants who wish to stay longer in New Zealand, can then apply for a partnership visa or any other type of visa. This reflects the usual immigration policy for citizens of visa waiver countries.
Partners may include dependent children in their request.
All arrivals will be required to spend 14 days in managed isolation and quarantine and agree to the terms of managed isolation and quarantine.
Changes provide certainty for offshore resident visa holders
The Government is making changes to help new residents stuck offshore keep their residency status while COVID-19 travel restrictions remain in place.
“The Government understands the uncertainty that COVID-19 has had on a number of visa holders, particularly individuals overseas who have not been able to travel to New Zealand to activate their new resident visa, or who have been unable to return to New Zealand before their travel conditions expired,” Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi said.
Individuals who are granted a resident visa must travel to New Zealand within a certain timeframe to activate their visa. However, current border restrictions have prevented many individuals being able to travel or return to New Zealand, and, as a result, their visa has expired or is about to expire.
“By powers given to me under the Immigration Act, individuals whose travel conditions are about to expire will receive a 12 month extension to travel to New Zealand, and those whose travel conditions have expired on or after 2 February 2020 (when travel restrictions began) will be issued a new visa, also valid for 12 months.
“These changes will provide around 5,600 resident visa holders, who have invested a lot of time and money to be granted a resident visa, with more certainty about their ability to come and settle in New Zealand in the future,” Kris Faafoi said.
“The Government recognises that these individuals have recently met the requirements to be granted residence. If not for border closures forced by the COVID-19 pandemic, they would be living in New Zealand and contributing to our team of five million,” Mr Faafoi said.
Individuals will only be able to travel to New Zealand if they are exempt from the current border restrictions or have been granted an exception. Extending travel conditions for these visa holders or issuing a new visa does not mean these individuals are now exempt from the current border restrictions if they were not previously.
“It has been important to run tight border restrictions to keep COVID-19 contained while also prioritising the return of New Zealanders. But we are now able to start making some adjustments to immigration settings which will allow a small number of people who, under normal circumstances, would have the right to come to New Zealand to know that will still be possible,” Kris Faafoi said.
These changes build on other changes made by the Minister of Immigration using his new powers under the Act, including:
- extending by six months onshore temporary work visas and those of their families due to expire by the end of 2020 benefiting around 16,500 workers and their families;
- extending onshore visitor visas that were due to expire before the end of October 2020 for five-months;
- extending Recognised Seasonal Employer scheme (RSE) visas by six months for workers who are still in New Zealand and unable to return home, as well as allowing more flexible hours and roles for those RSE workers still in New Zealand.
Extra funding for Customs to further protect maritime border
The Government is providing a funding boost to Customs to employ more staff to expand border surveillance, further strengthening the Government’s defence against Covid-19, Customs Minister Jenny Salesa announced today.
“Cabinet has agreed to a $50 million funding boost for the New Zealand Customs Service to further support its 24/7 on-the-ground presence at all international maritime ports. This is a significant investment in our ongoing efforts to keep all New Zealanders safe,” Jenny Salesa said.
Customs is the lead government agency – working closely with the Ministry of Health, New Zealand Defence Force and other agencies – to enforce the Order, which helps to protect New Zealand from the risk of COVID-19 entering the country at the maritime border.
“Customs has been doing a great job staffing the maritime border 24/7, more recently with assistance from New Zealand Defence Force personnel,” Jenny Salesa said.
“To date, Customs has been able to redeploy staff from within the organisation to the sea ports. This includes sea border workers seconded to the Maritime Order, and airport staff due to the drop in international travel. However increasing the overall level of staff at the sea ports demonstrates the Government’s commitment to standing up a permanent and long term system of defence to keep Covid out.
“The $40 million in new funding, with another $10 million in a contingency funding, will allow Customs to deploy the around 300 people necessary to provide services at all New Zealand seaports and to coordinate and support that nationwide operation.
“While ports represent a lower risk than some other border-facing facilities the Government is nevertheless taking it seriously. This will ensure there are more Customs staff to protect our maritime border, while also allowing Customs to continue its other important work, such as protecting New Zealand from illicit drugs, facilitating trade and travel, and collecting Crown revenue.
“The Government has run tight border restrictions to prioritise the return of New Zealanders and ensure that COVID-19 does not enter New Zealand via the maritime border.
“We are now in a position to make some adjustments to our settings to resource this intensive, but extremely important Customs work,” Jenny Salesa says.