COVID-19 border closure – the fine print

At 11.59 pm on Thursday 19 March 2020 New Zealand, for the very first time, introduced a blanket border closure for all waiver and existing temporary visa holders, and some resident visa holders currently offshore.  While it initially seemed any person with New Zealand citizenship or who held resident visa was exempt, that is not the case, it is far more reaching than initial media reported.

In addition, even though the restrictions have been put in place until 11.59 pm on 31 March 2020, our view is that these restrictions are likely to be set in place for at least three months.

Who is now excluded?

The new restrictions confirm the following people are excluded, unless an exemption (refer below) applies:

  1. All resident class visa holders where their visa was granted offshore and the person is arriving in New Zealand for the first time*; and
  2. All temporary entry class visa holders and visa-waiver travellers.

The first listed exclusion was an interesting surprise read this morning out of the full policy release that came out at midnight last night. However, there is some uncertainty as to what the highlighted phrase* above actually means. It can be read in two ways. The term for the first time could refer to travel on that resident visa issued offshore that you have not travelled to New Zealand on previously (i.e. where someone obtains their first resident visa while outside New Zealand and have not travelled to New Zealand on that visa yet), or it could mean anyone holding a resident visa that has been issued offshore can enter as long as they have been to New Zealand in the past (on a temporary visa).

Immigration New Zealand have advised that further clarification will be forth coming on this interpretation issue, however, our view is that it is the former. It appears that if you have been issued a resident visa while offshore and you have not travelled to New Zealand before on that visa to activate the travel conditions, you are now locked out subject to an exemption applying (refer below).

People allowed entry

For clarity we set out the main list of who have permission to enter. They are:

  1. All New Zealand citizens;
  2. New Zealand resident and permanent resident visa holders; (note how this seems to contravene the position above so has caused confusion)
  3. The partner, dependent children or legal guardian travelling with a New Zealand citizen, resident or permanent resident visa holder;
  4. Australian citizens and permanent resident visa holders whose primary place of residence is New Zealand; and
  5. Aircraft crew and marine crew.

The second point (wording) above seems to directly contravene the exclusion of new resident visa holders listed above, however, we believe this most likely should have been drafted as follows:

“New Zealand resident visa holders with activated travel conditions and all permanent resident visa holders”

This would align with the listed exclusion as it means resident visa holders who have been to New Zealand on that resident visa, and any permanent resident visa holder (as they have already spent a long time in New Zealand on a resident visa) are permitted entry.

How can someone on the exclusion list obtain entry permission?

If you are on the exclusion list you can still apply for an exemption to be able to travel. They will be issued on a case-by-case basis in exceptional circumstances for:

  1. Humanitarian reasons
  2. Essential health workers, as confirmed by the Ministry of Health;
  3. Other essential workers, as defined by the New Zealand Government;
  4. Citizens of Samoa and Tonga, for essential travel to New Zealand; and
  5. Partners and dependents of temporary work or student visa holders who normally live in New Zealand where the temporary work or student holder is currently in New Zealand.

The issue here is that the key terms in italics above are yet to be defined, so this is a policy that is not definitive and currently there is no guide to INZ as to who is able to meet those definitions.  No doubt over the coming days work will be undertaken to better define these exemptions to allow more visa processing certainty.

In addition INZ have not yet set up a formal process to apply for an exemption so they are currently working on that urgently.

In the interim however we are starting to obtain a practical understanding of what some of these terms could mean based on discussions with INZ today, but it is fair to say that INZ staff are also waiting for more information and guidance from Wellington on these exemptions too.

Where to from here?

It is apparent that these new restrictions will be far reaching and in some instances will have consequences that were not perhaps appreciated or intended, especially for new resident visa holders under the investor categories who have invested millions of dollars in New Zealand to secure their first resident visas recently and can no longer travel here on them. Expect more information to circulate to clarify and possibly amend these regulations moving forward.

In light of these developments we will also be releasing a guide to employers next week on some recommended (immediate) immigration approaches for their existing migrant employees in New Zealand, especially those holding essential skills work visas.

For further information or assistance with emigration please contact Lane Neave Lawyers on + 64 3 379 3720 or email

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