80 days after the government announced the alert system on 21 March 2020 New Zealand had achieved no new cases of COVID-19. We moved down to Level 1 on 9 June 2020. There are very few restrictions at this level. Domestically the focus is on basic hygiene and a contact tracing. Our office is now operating as normal but it’s good to know that we have the systems to operate remotely as well. The vast majority of our enquiries our online and after a reduction in March and April in June enquiries numbers have shot up to pre-Covid levels in May and June to date.
But it’s anything but business as usual at the border! On 19 March the border was closed to all but citizens and residents already based in New Zealand, and their immediate dependents travelling back with them to New Zealand. It is likely to remain closed until a treatment or vaccine is available. A local bubble with Australia and Pacific neighbours as possible before then. Beyond that only a small number of exemptions for COVID-19 related essential workers, a tiny number of other essential workers in New Zealand’s national interests exceptional humanitarian cases. We have been inundated with queries about border exceptions from employers and businesses urgently needing the unique skills of well-qualified migrants to partners and extended family members. We have also received inquiries from skilled migrants and investors offshore who see New Zealand as a safe haven in a very uncertain world.
A major concern of our clients and businesses needing overseas skills and talent has been a lack of clarity and transparency in the border exception process. The original instructions issued on 30 March 2020 have been tweaked on 2 June, 9 June, and again on 22 June. Exceptions are rare as the border is seen as New Zealand’s main defence against COVID-19. This has led to frustration for businesses who were relying on overseas talent, uncertainty for temporary visa holders. The exception process for business has been in the headlines with case by case decisions, e.g. the Avatar movie. The process shifted from the Minister of Health, the Minister of Economic Development to the Minister of Immigration. Detailed instructions were finally issued on 22 June. It is still a very high threshold. For more details see here.
For employers supporting onshore work visa applicants there are some important changes to be aware of. Check these here.
There have been headlines about breaches of quarantine and the return of COVID-19 at the border. There are also concerns at the cost and capacity of isolation facilities. The border closure continues to cause heartbreak for couples and families trapped on opposite sides of the border.
Essentially only the recognised partners and dependent children of New Zealand citizens and residents who are normally resident in New Zealand have a clear pathway under the border exception process. There are a few additional exceptions but the hurdles here are very high.
In addition to a visa application to enter New Zealand individuals need to put in an expression of interest. They must show that they have a “critical purpose” to be in New Zealand. For more details see here.
There have been a raft of other changes. Offshore branches remain closed. For those onshore, the priority is for those who are onshore already or who have very high incomes.
Pacific Legal’s breadth of experience ranges from multi-million-dollar development projects needing overseas skills to vulnerable individuals who have been caught out with the border closure.
Pacific Legal’s experienced team has decades of experience in hard cases and excellent communications with senior Immigration New Zealand management. Our dedicated team is available throughout the business week at our Newmarket office.
We have successfully argued for exceptions in a number of cases. We have been able to support employers to confirm flexible working conditions for their skilled staff who may need to travel to new locations but are concerned at breaching the terms of their visa. Contact us for an assessment of your case.
Note: the information in this update was up-to-date as of 24 June 2020 but may change at short notice. Further updates can checked at www.immigration.govt.nz.