The visa conundrum of working remotely in New Zealand4 Jul 2024

Remote working became the norm during Covid-19, and not just from home, but also from different countries and now, globally, some 35% of organisations allow their workers to work remotely from other countries – including Pathways®.

Advancements in technology have made remote work increasingly normal and feasible across international borders but people considering this option need to be mindful of the potential challenges arising from time differences, tax consequences, living conditions and costs, and, most importantly, visa requirements.

New Zealand immigration policy has largely been silent on any visa holders’ ability to work remotely for an overseas employer while in New Zealand. Current policy defines “work” as any activity undertaken in New Zealand for gain or reward and is irrespective of whether such work is for a New Zealand or overseas entity, and in order to undertake any work an overseas person must hold a visa allowing such work. Recently, Immigration NZ issued guidance that a person holding a partner work visa, only allowing work for an NZ accredited employer, would be in breach of their visa conditions if they worked remotely for an overseas employer.

Given the current definition of “work” it appears that some work visas which allow work for any employer in any role and location can facilitate remote work for an overseas entity – and this would include all working holiday visa holders. However, the crunch issue is in regard to visitors in New Zealand. While on holiday we all check our emails and try and keep on top of our work, so how much of this “remote working” is allowed for visitors to our shores? We can all imagine the impact on our tourism industry if visitors were deemed to be in breach of their visitor visas simply by checking their emails! Of course, this is nonsensical, but is the reality given the current immigration definition of “work”, and while there are no clear “remote working” policy parameters. The simplest solution is to change the work definition so that the visa status of genuine visitors is not compromised.

In its’ pre-election immigration manifesto the National Party committed to the introduction of a Digital Nomad Visa (DNV) – limited to 250 visas in the first year. The DNV does not address the above issues but does cater for a growing cohort of people who want the benefits and experience of living in another country, while continuing to work for their overseas employer. There are now around 60 countries throughout the world who have a digital nomad-type visa. Italy is the latest country to join this list while a number of countries, including New Zealand, are also now looking to introduce such visas.

Digital Nomad Visas are generally issued for 12-month periods and may be able to be extended for one or more years depending on the country. Most DNVs have minimum income and private health insurance requirements, and the main areas of difference are in the nature of the work allowed, and in the tax treatment of the income earned while working in the country. It is this tax treatment, as well as New Zealand’s high cost of living, which are likely to prove the deciding factors in the take-up of the New Zealand DNV if, and when, this is introduced.

The issue of being able to work remotely, and to what extent, in New Zealand has long been a grey policy area that the Government has purposefully shied away from addressing. However, the nature of work and how it is undertaken in the modern world have now overtaken New Zealand’s policy settings – and it is time to catch up!

Link: First Published in the Waikato Business News, July 2024 Edition, Page 8