OPINION:By Aaron Martin
On Wednesday 1 April Immigration New Zealand announced new criteria to allow migrants to apply for a visa to enter New Zealand. Leading immigration lawyer Aaron Martin explains the ramifications for potential applicants and their families.
Immigration New Zealand (INZ) has at long last finalised a formal application process for people to be considered for a visa as an exception to the border closure requirements. This does not expand the existing exemptions or open the border in any way.
The exemptions are limited to those entering New Zealand for a ‘critical purpose’.
In broad terms, this includes essential health workers (INZ confirmed that priority has been given to medical personnel), and workers in other essential services and industries relating to the maintenance of critical infrastructure delivery of the Government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
It also includes the family members of citizens, residents, and Australians who normally live here and want to return with their family.
To be eligible if you are applying as a family or partner, you must be travelling back to New Zealand with a New Zealand citizen or resident. If you are not, the message is clear: extended family members should stay where they are until the pandemic is brought under control and our borders reopen.
How do migrants apply?
An applicant must submit an expression of interest to allow INZ to assess whether they fall within one of the exemptions. If so, INZ invites the person to submit a formal residence application using the INZ online application system. The applicant has one month to make the application.
When an applicant completes an expression of interest, they receive a confirmation indicating they will receive a response within 48 hours. However, INZ has already indicated its ability to process visas for medical personnel coming into New Zealand is ‘limited’.
So, again, it appears there will be some backlog in processing these visa applications. Sadly, the status quo everyone experiences when dealing with INZ is that it does not have the resources to process the necessary volume of work.
Perhaps INZ could look at hiring some of the increased number of unemployed skilled New Zealanders to process the backlogs – and not just in relation to this class of visa. Once the lockdown is lifted, if INZ hires those who are out of work, it could get on top of its workflow (especially the 18-month-long queue of resident applications). This would provide meaningful work for New Zealanders who have lost their job as a consequence of COVID-19.
This new announcement provides much more certainty for people in one respect: they have a visa to come to New Zealand. It doesn’t, however, solve the practical difficulty of how to get a flight. That is becoming increasingly complex as international airlines shut down their international services.
The changes will also give certainty to people when attempting to board inbound aircraft.
Previously, people who were exempt from the border closure (for example, medical personnel, dependent children, and partners of New Zealand citizens or resident visa holders who were returning) were being refused boarding at check-in by the airlines, because of confusion about whether a person would have been permitted entry.
More information including the full list of exemptions can be found at: https://www.immigration.govt.nz/about-us/covid-19/border-closures-and-exceptions