For most overseas people, the answer is “No”. The border is closed to contain the spread of Covid-19. But there are some exceptions, and you might qualify. In particular, I will talk about requests to come in on humanitarian grounds, and entry of “essential workers”.
The default position is that no-one can come back in, except New Zealand Citizens and Residents. Family members of New Zealanders have to be accompanied by the New Zealand partner or parent, or the NZ child whom they are taking care of. Even Australians, who can normally fly in as Residents, first have to ask permission or risk being stopped from boarding their flight. Immigration New Zealand has set out the rules in general terms.
Anyone claiming that they need to come in for humanitarian reasons must show that they have a “critical purpose” for doing so. The wording in the new Immigration Instructions for humanitarian entry makes it clear that this is a tough test to meet. The words I have heard used by Immigration officials send the same message.
Humanitarian reasons are “exceptional circumstances of a humanitarian nature that make it strongly desirable for the applicant to travel and enter New Zealand.” This wording is similar to that used for deportation appeals, where we have had some experience and success over many years.
Whether you pass the test depends on:
- the strength of your links to NZ, usually through family, or by how long you have lived here in the past, and how much time you have been away; and
- the consequences of not allowing you in – what other options you have, and the impact on you or on someone else if you can’t come to NZ.
Our experience with making such requests is that it is critical to tell a strong story, which is easy to understand right away. We look for the “hook line” which makes your case stand out from others’. There may be features in your case which you take for granted, but which can make all the difference to someone who has to make the hard call whether to let you visit or not.
Again, the question is whether someone coming in can show a “critical purpose” for entering New Zealand. The focus here is on how your skills can aid the health and wellbeing of this country. There are 2 main groups of interest:
Essential Health Workers: 2-year Work Visas are available for those who:
- have a job offer with one of the listed agencies – including hospitals, medical centres and rest homes;
- will work in a listed occupation – doctors, nurses, theatre technicians and other specialists. This includes aged care workers, which may reflect concerns about the heightened risks to the elderly posed by Covid-19; and
- have the support of a Government agency involved in the response to Covid-19.
These Work Visas allow people to work for any employer in any occupation. It reflects the reality that medical staff should be able to move to where they are needed as the pandemic situation develops.
It also appears that people with desirable medical skills and qualifications, but without a job offer, can get a Visitor Visa to enter the county and take up work anywhere they choose, although at first they would only get a 6-month Visitor Visa with work conditions attached.
Other Essential Workers: These are people who can deliver services and maintain infrastructure which are critical for the country to function during its response to the pandemic.
The list of those critical occupations has not yet been published. Along with others on the NZAMI Board, I have helped with suggestions to senior MBIE officials which they can feed through to the All of Government Working Group. In the meantime, conditions for visa holders working in supermarkets and rest homes have been relaxed to enable them to contribute more fully to what are now vital areas of work.
The decisionmakers face a dilemma here. There have historically been staff shortages in many industries, either because New Zealanders don’t have the skill-set, or because they don’t want to do the work – think caregivers at rest homes, or fruit pickers. We need people to look after the elderly; we need someone to pick the grapes right now. At the same time, many are talking about a sudden recession, and there are dark warnings of a massive increase in unemployment. It would not be a good look to bring in more people from overseas when so many locals might be looking for jobs very soon.
We have just heard that the draw of Expressions of Interest for the new Parent Category has been deferred. It was meant to happen in May, and has been postponed – but not cancelled entirely.
And Working Holiday Visas have been put on hold. This is hardly surprising. Processing of almost all visa applications for offshore applicants has stopped. Priority will be given to Partner applications, and there will of course be work on the “essential worker” exceptions mentioned above.
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