Immigration New Zealand (INZ) had its offices closed due to COVID-19. This meant that no applications were being processed, effectively bringing immigration to a standstill. Now that New Zealand is in level 3 of the lockdown, and hopefully entering level 2, INZ will be reopening its doors and resume processing applications. However, this will only be for onshore branches and staff numbers will be limited. On top of that, New Zealand’s borders are still closed. This means that the only applications that will be processed will be applications for people who are currently onshore. However, if you meet the requirements for an exception to the border closure your application may be processed. So far, INZ has received 6,912 expressions of interest from those claiming they are exceptions to the border closure rules and only 1,437 have been invited to apply for a visa. This does not mean that they have been granted a visa, and they can still be rejected. Please refer to our previous article about the exceptions to border closure policy here.
Immigration (COVID-19 Response) Amendment Bill
The Immigration (COVID-19 Response) Amendment Bill (the Bill) has been introduced to allow the Government to quickly make emergency changes to New Zealand’s immigration policies as required. The Bill would grant the Government 8 emergency powers:
The power to impose, vary or cancel conditions for classes of temporary entry class visa holders; and
The power to vary or cancel conditions for classes of resident class visa holders; and
The power to extend the expiry dates of visas for classes of people; and
The power to grant visas to individuals and classes of people in the absence of an application; and
The power to waive any regulatory requirements for certain classes of application; and
The power to waive the requirement to obtain a transit visa; and
The power to suspend the ability to make applications for visas or submit Expressions of Interest in applying for visas by classes of people; and
The power to revoke the entry permission of people who arrive either on private aircraft or marine vessels (this power aligns with the one already in place for people who arrive on commercial flights, who can already be refused entry).
The Bill was sent to the Select Committee on 5 May 2020, and they are currently taking oral and written submissions. You can find a copy of the Bill and find out more about the Select Committee process here. The Bill will become the law of the land on Friday 15 May 2020. It has been put together very quickly and supposedly grants the Minister significant additional discretionary power. At the start of May there are apparently in excess of 400,000 temporary visa holders onshore. The idea behind this new legislation was to mitigate against INZ’s inability to function properly. There are however concerns that the proposed changes are too broad and don’t have enough limitations, which could result in an upward creep of Big Brother’s unbridled power (which has been previously exercised with dubious distinction).
Q – “My migrant employee was overseas when the borders closed and now they can’t get back to New Zealand. When will they be able to return?”
A – Unless they meet the exceptions to border closure instructions, they will have to wait until the borders reopen. There is no time frame on when this might be.
Q – “Should I still be planning or recruiting for new migrant workers in July/August?”
A – The borders are unlikely to open at the same time that lock-down is lifted. Therefore, you should not be planning to hire migrant workers until confirmation that the borders will be reopened has surfaced.
Q – “My migrant employee is overseas and can’t return. What do I do about their expiring work visa? What should I do in the meantime?”
A – Unfortunately you cannot promise the employee that they will still be able to work anytime soon, due to the border closure. At this stage there is no indication that the borders will open anytime soon, so you will have to look at the local labour market to cover any shortages in your staff.
Q – “I applied for a variation of conditions on my work visa to work for a different employer. I am due to start working for my new employer soon, but INZ has not processed my application. Can I start working for my new employer anyway?”
A – No, you must obey the conditions on your current work visa. Until the variation of conditions has been approved by INZ, you would be required to continue working for your current/old employer.
Q – “I am working under reduced hours and/or pay during the lock down. Will this breach my visa conditions?”
A – There are exceptions in place for those working in essential, and they will be able to vary their hours or work in different roles than what is stated on their visa. As for other workers, the Government is looking into what policy changes are suitable.
Q – “I am being pressured to take a pay-cut and this will reduce my salary below the minimum amount required for my work to residency visa. Will this affect my eligibility for residence?”
A – Yes, you must continue to meet immigration instructions. INZ has no discretion under residence instructions, so unfortunately you must ensure your salary meets the minimum amount.
Q – “My visa was automatically extended, but what happens if my visa expires after that?”
A – You will need to either leave New Zealand or apply for another visa before it expires.
Essential services FAQ
Q – “I am an employer. One of my employees works in role A, however I need more employees working in role B. Can I get my employee to work in role B?”
A – For essential services, visa conditions have been relaxed. They will be able to work in roles other than stated on their visa conditions for the whole of level 3 of the lock down, and 6 weeks after that.
Q – “I am a nurse and an essential worker. I would like to take another healthcare related job during the weekends. What can I do?”
A – Please have your employer fill out the online form here.
Q – “I am a nurse and an essential worker. I would like to request a variation of conditions to work for another employer, what can I do?”
A – As above, please have your employer complete the online form here.
Q – “I am here on a student visa but I have either finished my studies or no longer want to study. What can I do?”
A – Your visa conditions remain the same, even if your student visa was automatically extended. If you are no longer studying, you should contact your education provider. If you can return home, you should make plans to do so. More information about happens student visa holders will be released by the Government as the situation develops.
Q – “I am on a visitor visa, can I work in New Zealand while I am stuck here?”
A – No. Your visa conditions do not allow you to work and remain in force. Part of the requirements for obtaining a visitor visa is having sufficient funds to support yourself, so you should not need to work. You will need to apply for a work visa before you are able to work. Alternatively you can contact your Embassy or Consulate, or return home if possible.
Q – “I am an employer who provides accommodation to my migrant workers. However, their contracts have expired and they are unable to leave. I want to vacate the accommodation for my new workers, what can I do?
A – The migrant workers should contact their Embassy or Consulate for assistance with repatriation flights. If they require temporary accommodation, they should visit the MBIE website here for more information.
We have taken care to ensure that the information given is accurate, however it is intended for general guidance only and should not be relied upon in individual cases. Professional advice should be always be sought before any decision or action is taken as Immigration New Zealand’s instructions change on a regular basis.