Changes provide certainty for offshore resident visa holders9 Sep 2020

The Government is making changes to help new residents stuck offshore keep their residency status while COVID-19 travel restrictions remain in place.

“The Government understands the uncertainty that COVID-19 has had on a number of visa holders, particularly individuals overseas who have not been able to travel to New Zealand to activate their new resident visa, or who have been unable to return to New Zealand before their travel conditions expired,” Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi said.

Individuals who are granted a resident visa must travel to New Zealand within a certain timeframe to activate their visa. However, current border restrictions have prevented many individuals being able to travel or return to New Zealand, and, as a result, their visa has expired or is about to expire.

“By powers given to me under the Immigration Act, individuals whose travel conditions are about to expire will receive a 12 month extension to travel to New Zealand, and those whose travel conditions have expired on or after 2 February 2020 (when travel restrictions began) will be issued a new visa, also valid for 12 months.

“These changes will provide around 5,600 resident visa holders, who have invested a lot of time and money to be granted a resident visa, with more certainty about their ability to come and settle in New Zealand in the future,” Kris Faafoi said.

“The Government recognises that these individuals have recently met the requirements to be granted residence. If not for border closures forced by the COVID-19 pandemic, they would be living in New Zealand and contributing to our team of five million,” Mr Faafoi said.

Individuals will only be able to travel to New Zealand if they are exempt from the current border restrictions or have been granted an exception. Extending travel conditions for these visa holders or issuing a new visa does not mean these individuals are now exempt from the current border restrictions if they were not previously.

“It has been important to run tight border restrictions to keep COVID-19 contained while also prioritising the return of New Zealanders. But we are now able to start making some adjustments to immigration settings which will allow a small number of people who, under normal circumstances, would have the right to come to New Zealand to know that will still be possible,” Kris Faafoi said.

These changes build on other changes made by the Minister of Immigration using his new powers under the Act, including:

• extending by six months onshore temporary work visas and those of their families due to expire by the end of 2020 benefitting around16,500 workers and their families;
• extending onshore visitor visas that were due to expire before the end of October 2020 for five-months;
• extending Recognised Seasonal Employer scheme (RSE) visas by six months for workers who are still in New Zealand and unable to return home, as well as allowing more flexible hours and roles for those RSE workers still in New Zealand.

Why is the Government extending these visas?

Due to the current border restrictions, many individuals who have been granted a resident visa have not been able to travel or return to New Zealand before the travel conditions on their visa expire. These are individuals who have either settled or planned to settle in New Zealand long term. The Government recognises that these individuals have recently met residence criteria and there would be no question of their ability to be in New Zealand and contribute to this country had they arrived before COVID-19 closed our borders.

Does this mean these individuals will now be able to travel to New Zealand?

Individuals will only be able to travel to New Zealand if they are exempt from the border restrictions in place at the time or have been granted an exception. Extending their travel conditions or issuing a new visa does not mean they are exempt from the current border restrictions if they were not previously exempt.

How many people will this affect?

Around 5,600 resident visa holders currently offshore have travel conditions that are either about to, or have recently expired.

How will individuals know if their resident visa has been extended or they have been issued a new one?

Holders of a resident visa who have had their travel conditions extended or have been granted a new resident visa will be contacted by Immigration NZ (INZ) via email by the end of September. The email will be sent to the most recent email address held by INZ.