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Changes to resident visas, border exceptions for those overseas

The government has announced it is adding more categories under which people can apply for border exceptions, along with changes to extend or renew residency visas for some stuck overseas.

From early October, new categories will be open for some temporary work visa holders and partners of New Zealand citizens or residents based here - but only those who are Australian citizens or citizens of visa waiver countries living outside of the country.

In a statement, Minister of Immigration Kris Faafoi says the partners and dependent children of visa holders will also be able to apply for this exception, but the visa holder must have retained their job or business here.

They must also demonstrate they still have ties here "with realistic prospects of remaining here long-term", he said.

"Many of these visa holders and their families have lived in New Zealand for years and have built lives here with the hope and expectation that they would be able to stay longer-term in New Zealand. It is only fair to let these visa holders return given their long-standing and ongoing connections to this country."

Up until now, the priority has been for New Zealand citizens and permanent residents to be given space to return, with the current capacity in managed isolation standing at about 7000.

Faafoi says there is now space in managed isolation facilities to accommodate for people who fit this criteria, alongside returning citizens and permanent residents.

"In order to manage flows of returnees into managed isolation, they will also be expected to use the managed isolation allocation system when it goes live."

The government expects up to 850 visa holders may be eligible for this category.

To be considered for the new border exception, visa holders must:

still hold their job in New Zealand, or continue to operate a business in New Zealand hold either a work to residence visa, or an essential skills visa that is not subject to the stand-down period, or an entrepreneur visa have departed New Zealand on or after 1 December 2019 have lived in New Zealand for at least two years, or, if living in New Zealand for at least one year, have one of the following: > an entrepreneur work visa and operating a business in New Zealand (and operated it before departing New Zealand) > their dependent children with them in New Zealand (for at least six months) > parents or adult siblings who are ordinarily resident in New Zealand > submitted an application for residence by 31 July 2020 > have held a visa at the time of departing that does not expire before the end of 2020, or, if expiring before that date, have applied for a further visa by 10 August 2020. Border exceptions for partners from visa-waiver countries

New Zealand citizens or residents based here who have been separated from their partners who are Australian citizens or citizens of visa waiver countries living outside of the country, will now also be able to be reunited.

Minister of Immigration Kris Faafoi. Photo: RNZ /Dom Thomas

Under current border restrictions, partners of New Zealand citizens and residents wanting to enter the country need to have either a relationship-based visa, or be travelling with their New Zealand citizen or resident family member, or be ordinarily resident in New Zealand.

But under changes being introduced from early October, they will be able to apply for a border exception to enter. Partners may include dependent children in their request.

"We are now in a position where we can make some adjustments to our immigration settings which will allow a small number of people who, under normal circumstances, would have the right to come to New Zealand to do so now," Faafoi says.

"They will be required to submit a border exception request and demonstrate that they are in a genuine and stable relationship," he says.

"Australian partners, if granted a border exception, will be automatically issued a Critical Purpose Visitor visa to allow them to travel to New Zealand and they will receive a resident visa on arrival; in line with usual immigration policy for Australians."

Partners from visa-waiver countries, if granted a border exception, will be invited to apply for a six-month Critical Purpose Visitor visa. Those wishing to stay longer in New Zealand can then apply for a partnership visa or any other type of visa.

All will be required to spend 14 days in managed isolation and quarantine and agree to the terms of managed isolation and quarantine.

Changes for offshore resident visa holders

In further changes announced today, those who have been unable to enter the country to activate their residency visa or unable to return before their residency visa expires will get a reprieve.

Usually people 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 them from doing so.

"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," Faafoi announced.

He says the changes will affect about 5600 resident visa holders.

However, Faafoi says they 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 they are now exempt from the current border restrictions if they were not previously.

These changes build on other changes made by the minister of immigration, including:

extending by six months onshore temporary work visas and those of their families due to expire by the end of 2020 benefitting around 16,500 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.