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Looking Ahead to 2022 - NZ Borders and Immigration Policy

17 January 2022

2021 was a strange year for us, with with all of New Zealand having experienced its longest lockdown, especially Auckland. While Delta ravaged the world, vaccinations offered hope to end this pandemic. Amidst all of that, Omicron surfaced and New Zealand transitioned to a new traffic light system. Along with these rapid governmental changes for Covid response, immigration landscape also twisted and turned a lot!

If there was anything we learned during 2021, it is that there is no crystal ball when it comes to immigration and border policy. So although announcements have been made regarding 2022 border reopening plans for NZ, we must take these announcements with a grain of salt. Just because changes have been announced does not mean that they are set in stone. All we can do is plan for these updates, but be prepared to adapt to any changes as they come up.

This is what we know so far:

NZ Borders - NZ Will Slowly Begin Reconnecting with the World

On 21st December 2021, the government shared another update regarding its plans to reopen the NZ borders to the rest of the world. While a number of updates were included in the announcement, there was only a bit of information presented regarding the re-opening plan. In short, non-MIQ travel has been pushed out to the end of February 2022. 

While we are still waiting for additional information, we hope to see revised dates for each of the following phases:

  • Phase 1:  Fully vaccinated NZ citizens, and those NZ residence-class visa holders and other eligible travelers under current border settings can travel from Australia to NZ without going into MIQ.
  • Phase 2: Fully vaccinated NZers, and those NZ residence-class visa holders and other eligible travelers under current border settings can travel to NZ from all other countries without going into MIQ.
  • Phase 3: All fully vaccinated individuals will be able to travel to NZ without going into MIQ. This reopening may be staged by visa category.

Even once we receive those dates, many unanswered questions will remain:

Who are considered “other eligible travelers''? 

The phrase “other travelers eligible under our current settings” indicates these changes will only impact travelers who are currently able to enter NZ - which would mean that as of 11:59 pm on 16th January, it simply becomes easier for travelers already able to enter NZ to do so, rather than expanding entry requirements to impact those who have been locked out of NZ from the onset of the pandemic.

We received information from Unite Against Covid-19 that these "other eligible travelers" include:

  • NZ citizens and permanent resident visa holders
  • The partner or dependent child of a NZ citizen or permanent resident, whose visa is based on this relationship
  • A diplomat who holds a post in ZN
  • Australian citizens or permanent residents ordinarily resident in NZ (lawfully present in New Zealand for more than 183 days in the last 12 months)
  • Eligible travelers from the Cook Islands and Niue

How will a re-opening “staged by visa category” actually work?

While we anticipate additional information being released sometime this month, it is still unclear which visa categories would be included in the staging, and how they would be prioritised.

What will actually happen on those critical dates like 30th April?

Many NZ organisations are mostly in favor of reopening borders in a larger way. From businesses who are keen to once again be able to hire skilled migrants, to tourism operators who are ready to resume pre-pandemic operations, it seems that there is a contrast between what organisations want and need, and what the NZ government is willing to allow. Hopefully we will receive additional information soon, so that all of us - businesses and individuals stuck outside of NZ borders - can begin more accurately setting expectations for 2022.

And additionally, as the Omicron variant continues to gain momentum around the world, including in countries such as Australia, it is entirely possible that these dates may be pushed back. We encourage you to follow us on Facebook to ensure you don’t miss any important and time-sensitive immigration and border updates. 

Note: The above dates were updated on 17th January 2022, to incorporate the most recent announcements on 21st December 2021. You can read the updates in full here.

2021RV - End of Phase 1, Beginning of Phase 2

Although INZ stated that they will look to complete most 2021RV applications within 12 months, we have been able to see some 21RV applications already having been approved - in roughly two weeks since Phase 1 applications opened! However, for those of you who have not submitted their applications just yet, there is time:

  • 1st March 2022: Phase 2 applications open
  • 31 July 2022: All applications must be submitted (both Phase 1 and 2)

By the time 2021RV closes to applications, it is estimated that upwards of 165,000 migrants - including partners and dependent applicants - could gain residency under this visa. However, we encourage applicants to ensure that they remain on a valid visa at all times - and if you are leaning towards accepting the 2021 Interim Visa, make sure you understand exactly what the 21IV could mean for your situation

Accredited Employer Work Visa - Only Option After 3rd July 2022

To those of you who might not have heard - employers looking to hire and/or retain migrant workers after 3rd July 2022 are required to undergo a new accreditation process. While this may seem like an immigration policy that will only affect employers, it will impact you as a current or potential employee as well.

As part of the new accreditation scheme, employers will be able to support employees only through the Accredited Employer Work Visa (AEWV), as opposed to the employer-supported work visas that are either still used today or were used in the past (Essential Skills, LTSSL, Talent (Accredited Employer)). 

So, what does this mean for the current Essential Skills Work Visa (ESWV)? It means that while you can apply for the ESWV now - as it is still a valid employer-supported work visa - the last day that you will be able to submit an application for an ESWV is on 3rd July 2022. After that date - from 4th July onwards - only the AEWV can be used.

Although you as an employee will actually carry less responsibility under this new visa type - as the majority of the hiring/retention process will be carried by the employer - we encourage you to understand what this new visa is, and what will be required of you to apply. If you believe your employer is disconnected from these pending changes, we ask you bring their attention to this. 

What to Expect from 2022

While we already know that a number of planned immigration policy changes will come into effect - specifically the close of the 21RV, the end of the ESWV, and the emergence of the AEWV - we cannot yet say more about the greater immigration reset that has long been discussed by INZ.

Similarly, with respect to NZ’s currently closed borders, we cannot yet say when different classes of visa holders - workers, students, tourists or visitors - will be able to pass through NZ borders, only that it will be after 1st May, 2022. But given how conservative NZ’s overall response has been to Covid-19, we expect the government to remain conservative with their border reopening strategy as well.

So while there is never such a thing as one-size-fits-all immigration advice - we do have a wish for each and every one of you. Remain patient, and don’t lose sight of your immigration goals. The past two years have been difficult in so many ways. And while we are still not through the challenges brought on by the pandemic and a constantly evolving immigration system, there is light at the end of the tunnel. Stay focused on what is best for you and your family. 

If you have any questions about what continuing immigration changes mean for you or your family, please reach out to us. Otherwise, if you want to ensure that you remain always up-to-date on INZ’s constant changes, please follow us on Facebook and Subscribe to our Newsletter. We’ll continue to share timely immigration updates in an easy to understand manner into the new year.

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