How do I apply for a border exception?

To apply for an exemption a basic email form is completed which if successful will lead to an invitation to apply. No documents can be attached to email to apply and the explanation field amounts to 60 words or so. We have got around this in some cases by sending submissions to the Covid team management and asking them to be associated with the online application to apply.

What kind of visa will I get if it is granted?

If successful a 6-month visitor visas issued which, strangely, includes permission to work in appropriate cases.

 What are my chances?  If a temporary visa holder or applicant: slim

As at June 2020 around 80% of these requests were being refused. No reasons are given and refusals are on a quick timeframe of 2 to 3 days.  Overwhelmingly those who are in isolation, having been granted an exception are New Zealand citizens or residents. As at late June 2020 we heard at an industry seminar that only 5% of those in isolation were holders of other kinds of visas.  It seems that most of them are the partners and dependents of residents and citizens.  For someone who does not hold a current partner or dependent-based visa the chances of getting a border exception at present are remote.  As at June 2020 there was no solution for offshore work and temporary entry visa holders.

What are the categories?

  • The basic rules are that only New Zealand citizens or recognised dependents (partners and children) who are ordinarily in New Zealand may be granted a border exception.
  • There are further exceptions for essential health workers and other essential workers (interpreted very narrowly: see separate comments on that)
  • Essential travel from Samoa or Tonga is permitted but only if it has the support of the home government and the New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
  • Finally there is a humanitarian exception. However, we have found that this has been very strictly interpreted so that even cases where there is clear harm to New Zealand parties are not successful.
  •  We deal with the small number of exceptions for other essential workers here too.

Have there been any changes?

On 9 June and 22 June 2020 the Minister of immigration tweaked the instructions.

The latest changes now allow Partner very slims and dependants of New Zealand citizens and residents who are ordinarily resident in New Zealand or hold a visa on the basis of their relationship will no longer need to travel with their New Zealand citizen or resident family member to be granted an exception to the border closure.

At an industry seminar on 25 June it is clear that a solution for partners of temporary visa holders and work visa holders who are offshore is still some way off. Partly this is a practical issue because isolation facilities are nearly at capacity.  For some lower skilled work roles there are also questions about whether the work visa will continue to meet changed labour market tests.

We have had many queries from desperate individuals who have had multiple refusals of border exception requests. In some cases our clients had partnership visas in process offshore but had various kinds of complicating issues. For example, some had not lived together for the required period of time because of cultural or religious beliefs. Previously they could rely on the Ministers November 2019 announcement that visitor visas would be available for genuine relationships of that sort.

Other situations?

We are finding that the border exception process has gone back to the previous narrow and discriminatory approach. In other cases, offshore branches had not conducted proper checks and had concluded the applicant was not “bona fides” or genuine. Because offshore branches remain closed we cannot give the applications transferred onshore for reconsideration. The only option here is the complaints process if the primary decision was made within the last 6 months.

Pacific Legal has dealt with a range of partnership situations including relationships of short duration. With the right evidence and advocacy we have achieved positive outcomes although the first request is sometimes refused. Some couples have come to us after multiple refused requests not understanding how difficult the criteria is. For the first time we’ve been helping New Zealand resident and citizen partners who do not meet the requirement to be currently based in New Zealand. At present couples need to have very clear evidence of a pre-existing relationship and a well-established base in New Zealand. Those who have not yet lodged an application face more challenges than those who have done so.


This information was up-to-date as of 24 June 2020 but may change at short notice. Further updates can checked at
The above is general information only. Every case is different. For advice in your case we encourage you to contact us

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Clients need to be realistic about expectations and timeframes at this time but with the right information, we can confidently assess your case and give a realistic appraisal Contact us for an assessment of your case.  Please note that initial appraisals will be online and we may need further details from you.