New Zealand puts out the welcome mat for truck drivers – finally!!11 May 2023

7 April 2024
Government announces the closure of the work to residence pathway for truck (& bus) drivers. Drivers who had already applied for their Accredited Employer Work Visa, or who held an AEWV, as at 7 April 2024 are not impacted by this change and can still progress towards their residence after working in the role for 2 years and as below.

11 May 2023
On 26 April 2023 the Minister of Immigration announced that a work to residence pathway was being introduced which would enable people driving, primarily class 4 & 5, vehicles to be able to apply for residence after they have worked in the role for 2 years after 29 September 2021. This is great news for the hard working and often underappreciated heavy vehicle drivers who hold this country together.

The policy detail has yet to be confirmed by Immigration New Zealand (‘INZ’) but, subject to such confirmation, our understanding is as follows;

  • There is no limit on the number of applicants that will be able to gain residence under this pathway and this will be reviewed in one year
  • The two-year work to residence period will trigger once the work visa holder is earning the median wage (currently $29.66 per hour)
  • English language requirements will still apply – equivalent to IELTS 6.5, or PTE 58 for the main applicant at the time they make their residence application. Applicants from some English-speaking countries may not be required to undertake any test
  • At the time of applying for residence, applicants will need to hold an Accredited Employer Work Visa, or another suitable work visa which was applied for before 4 July 2022, and be paid the then median wage.

Driver Licencing Information for Work Visa Applicants

To drive a class 4 or 5 truck in NZ, a work visa holder must have a class 4 or 5 NZ driver’s licence, but they can initially drive on their overseas driver’s licence for 12 months provided the following conditions are met:
  • They have a current and valid overseas licence, or driver permit, for the equivalent NZ class, and
  • They have not been given a disqualification or suspension in New Zealand, and
  • They arrived in New Zealand less than 12 months ago, and
  • Their overseas licence is in English, or they have an accurate and reliable English translation, and
  • They have not been granted a New Zealand driver’s licence since they last entered New Zealand.

Prior to the expiry of the 12-month period, overseas licence holders will need to convert their licences to New Zealand licences.

Some countries require similar driving skills and have similar licensing systems to that of New Zealand. These countries are considered “exempt countries” meaning that licence holders from those countries can convert their car licences to a NZ licence without having to sit any theory and practical driving tests in New Zealand.

However, when converting a truck licence, applicants from exempt countries (other than South Korea and Hong Kong) must still pass a theory test, and a practical test is also required unless they have held their licence for more than two years.

The full list of exempt countries is below.

  • Australia
  • Austria
  • Belgium
  • Canada
  • Denmark
  • Finland
  • France
  • Germany
  • Greece
  • Hong Kong*
  • Ireland
  • Italy
  • Japan
  • Luxembourg
  • Netherlands
  • Norway
  • Portugal
  • South Africa
  • South Korea*
  • Spain
  • Sweden
  • Switzerland
  • United Kingdom
  • USA

When converting a truck licence, in addition to passing a theory test, licence holders from all non-exempt countries, and South Korea and Hong Kong, must sit the practical test even if they have held their licence for more than two years. When the NZTA talks about “holding the licence for 2 years” they mean holding the equivalent class 4 or 5 endorsement, not just the licence.

Foreign licence conversions can only be done at specialist overseas conversion sites within the NZ Transport Agency (Waka Kotahi), see NZTA website for the various locations throughout NZ.

When converting their licences, applicants from India, Pakistan and Tonga need to be able to evidence the validity of their home country licence. This can be done online through agencies in their respective countries, see NZTA website for the country links. This is required because India and Pakistan do not have centralised licencing authorities and NZTA is aware of online schemes selling fraudulent Tongan driver licences.

In conclusion

This is an exciting time for the trucking industry in New Zealand which has been experiencing significant driver shortages for many years. Yes, the transition of overseas drivers into the local industry will have some challenges, but at least now the immigration settings are such that New Zealand is better placed to attract, and retain, such drivers than was the case previously.

Pathways to New Zealand looks forward to partnering with industry employers, work visa applicants and future residence applicants, to ensure that this new immigration journey is smooth and not full of pot holes!