What you need to know before you apply for New Zealand citizenship5 Apr 2024

For many who have decided to call New Zealand home, applying for New Zealand citizenship is the final stage of a long immigration journey. Many Pathways® clients have said the formal citizenship ceremony is often a rewarding and emotional celebration; a milestone symbolising the completion of this journey.

While holding a Permanent Resident Visa (PRV) enables you to permanently live and work in New Zealand there are some additional benefits in obtaining New Zealand citizenship including the ability to hold a New Zealand passport.

If you are considering applying for New Zealand citizenship, this article will be helpful to clarify the reasons for applying, the requirements for eligibility, and the process involved in undertaking an application.

What are the categories of New Zealand citizenship?

New Zealand has three main categories of New Zealand citizenship:
Citizenship by birth – if you were born in New Zealand prior to 1 January 2006, you are automatically granted New Zealand citizenship. If you were born in New Zealand on or after 1 January 2006, you are only a citizen if, when you were born, at least one of your parents was a New Zealand citizen or resident.
Citizenship by descent – if you were born overseas and have a parent who was a New Zealand citizen when you were born (providing this parent did not themselves obtain citizenship by descent).
Citizenship by grant – if you and your parents were born outside New Zealand.

If you entered New Zealand as a migrant, with you and your parents having been born overseas, you will most likely be applying for citizenship by grant.

Why become a New Zealand citizen?

The PRV already provides you with the right to live and work permanently in New Zealand, no matter how much time you may spend outside the country. So why should someone want to still apply for New Zealand citizenship?

The benefits of New Zealand citizenship include:
1. The ability to obtain for a New Zealand passport. New Zealand citizens are able to visit many countries without the need for an entry visa. New Zealand citizenship also provides the opportunity to live and work in Australia.
2. Access to New Zealand consulate services overseas.
3. The ability to be elected to New Zealand government or local council roles.
4. The ability to serve in the New Zealand armed forces.
5. The ability to represent New Zealand in international sport.
6. The option for your children, born offshore in the future, to apply for New Zealand citizenship by descent.
7. Being eligible to apply for education scholarships which are only available to New Zealand citizens

Multiple citizenships
While New Zealand recognises a person can hold multiple nationalities this is not the case for some other countries such as China, India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore, South Africa, and Thailand (there are about 50 countries in total). People who are citizens of these countries may need to give up their existing citizenship before, or soon after, taking up their New Zealand citizenship.

Eligibility requirements for the grant of New Zealand citizenship

To be eligible to apply for the grant of New Zealand citizenship, you must have been present in New Zealand while holding a resident class visa for:
• at least 240 days in each of the five years immediately prior to applying; and
• at least 1,350 days in total across the five years immediately prior to applying.

You do not have to hold a Permanent Resident Visa but if holding a Resident Visa it must not be subject to additional (Section 49) conditions.

You must also be able to demonstrate that:
• you are of good character
• you have sufficient knowledge of English to manage independently in everyday situations.

The requirement to be of good character is evaluated through a series of declarations on the application form. The DIA will consult with external agencies (e.g., the NZ Police) to verify these declarations. Note there is also a declaration to be made regarding any money owed to a government department (e.g., the IRD). All such matters will need to be carefully and accurately managed.

Can I apply before the five years have passed?
The eligibility requirement is to have been present in NZ for the required number of days while holding a resident visa. The requirement is not strictly to have held a NZ resident visa for the full five years.

Up to 125 days (4 months) prior to obtaining NZ residence may be included in the first 12-month period. In this case, you may still have been present in NZ while holding a resident visa for at least 240 days in the first 12-month period (provided you also take into account any time spent outside New Zealand in that period).

For example, if you gained NZ residence on 1 January 2020, and you did not leave NZ for the next 240 days, you could meet the requirement after 29 August 2020, marking the end of the first 12-month period. The application may then be submitted after 29 August 2024 (after 4 years and 8 months of holding a NZ resident visa, provided all other calculations regarding days spent in NZ are met).

This calculation can be complex, especially if you have travelled frequently outside of New Zealand, and we would certainly advise allowing for additional days to avoid any doubt.

Eligibility exceptions for children
Children aged 15 years and under do not have to meet the presence requirement if they are applying with a parent who does meet this requirement.

Children aged 13 years and under do not have to meet the character requirement.

How long does it take?

Processing timeframes for citizenship applications have been extremely variable in recent times, with current timeframes being updated on the Department of Internal Affairs (DIA) website.

Some older and more complex applications can take between 12 – 16 months to process. However, more recently lodged applications are now being processed much faster (1 to 4 months), and Pathways® has recently had applications approved within 2 weeks! This discrepancy in historical processing times appears to have resulted from changes to the DIA application process, which enables more recent, complete and straight-forward applications to proceed along a more automated process.

Complicating factors that may trigger a longer manual assessment may include:
1. Not clearly meeting the presence requirements - e.g., if the calculations are out by a day
2. If INZ had not issued the start date of the resident visa on the visa label - e.g., if you were offshore when the resident visa was approved, but the resident visa is only activated when you enter New Zealand
3. If you have declared a character matter or that you have an outstanding debt to a government department.
4. Providing additional evidence that does not clearly meet the criteria – e.g., un-convincing evidence that you meet the English language criteria
5. Any names or dates are not an exact match e.g.name of passport and birth certificate differ.

If your application is approved in principle:
You will be required to attend a citizenship ceremony organised by your local city or town council. It can take up to 4 months after receiving the approval to be invited to attend a citizenship ceremony.

At the ceremony, you must swear an oath or affirmation of allegiance before you can receive your certificate of citizenship and officially become a New Zealand citizen. Once you have your certificate of citizenship, you can apply for a New Zealand passport.

Application Fees (as at September 2023)

• Applicants aged 16 years and over - $470.20
• Applicants aged 15 years and under - $235.10

If you are approaching 5 years since obtaining your New Zealand resident visa, you may be eligible to apply for citizenship now!

Contact one of Pathways to New Zealand™ licensed immigration advisers today to assess your eligibility. Our team has many years of experience in representing applicants for their citizenship applications and are here to help if you have questions or need advice about applying.