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21 May 2020

Immigration (COVID-19 Response) Amendment Bill set to close New Zealand’s doors, for now

The New Zealand Government has passed the Immigration (COVID-19 Response) Amendment Bill, pushing it through the legislative process in near record time. As mentioned in our update below, this bill is aimed at addressing the Covid-19 ‘challenges’ presented to New Zealand’s immigration system in particular.

Given the degree of urgency with which this legislation was passed (within 10 days of being introduced), a great deal of uncertainty was created as to what powers would be bestowed upon the Minister, and how these might be utilised. Of particular concern was that the Minister would be bestowed with the power to suspend the ability to make applications for visas or submit expressions of interest in applying for visas by classes of people.

It appears that the concerns raised regarding these sweeping powers were taken on board, with the Bill making it clear that the powers can only used to contain or mitigate the outbreak of COVID-19 or its effects. Since the legislation was passed, the Minister has also made a statement, and INZ has in turn provided its own release, outlining how this particular power will be used. While initially there was concern that this power would be used as a mechanism to allow INZ to get their current volume of on hand applications under control, or to close off applications for particular types of visa as a means to promote the interests of New Zealand citizens or residents, the most recent updates indicate that it will not affect onshore visa holders, but will instead be utilised to ‘close the door’ to New Zealand for those who are currently offshore and do not hold visas.

This will effectively be used to support the border restrictions currently in place, so that rather than have INZ issue visas that are unable to be utilised without the holders also being granted an exception to travel, the Minister will be able to close off applications being made for any type of visa by an applicant currently outside of New Zealand, while the border is closed. Such suspensions can last for up to three months at a time, at which point the Minister will be required to conduct a review of the updated landscape and effects of COVID-19, before deciding whether a further suspension is warranted. As the new legislation gives the Minister the power to suspend applications by particular classes of persons, or for particular types of visas, it is likely that certain categories will be more readily suspended, to protect the interests of New Zealand citizens and residents, or where the visa is contingent on prompt entry to New Zealand.

The enactment of this legislation does not indicate any immediate change in policy. The Minister will first have to decide what policy changes are needed, and release that policy. While media releases make it clear that a suspension of offshore visas is imminent, there remains a window of opportunity until such policy is released.

It also appears that, at this point in time, onshore visa holders will not be affected, and so those who are currently on their ‘pathway’ towards applying for residence will not be prevented from continuing. Clearly, the submissions and feedback received on the bill in its initial stages have been taken on board, and those currently inside New Zealand are, at this stage, likely to have their ability to apply for further visas unaffected. 

If you need personalised advice in relation to your Visa and immigration pathways, please contact one of the team.