NZ COVID-19 Updates
Posted by Iain on April 8, 2020, 11:48 a.m. in New Zealand
Anyone in NZ who has a Visitor Vsa expiring on 25 September shuold by now have received notification of an automatic electronic 5 month 'extension' to their visitor visa. No application was required. In typical fashion however INZ has been slow to update many of its customers on this but it is 'law'.
Children can now have a second tranche of 3 months to attend their local school on a visitor visa. They have always been allowed to for three months on a visitor visa but that has now been extended to an additional six months - if their visa expired before 11 September.
Government announced today the resumption of offshore processing and grant of both temporary and permanent relationship based visas. Also the resumption of pool draws and processing of Business Investor applications. Some visa categories for offshore visas will be processed tot he point of approval but will not be issued till the border reopens. This does not apply to relationship based visas.
September 11 320pm
Government has announced that all children currently in NZ who would normally be treated as international students can attend their local school as 'domestic' (non full fee paying) students till the end of the year.
September 11. 12pm
Government announced today a further easing of (the ludicrous) definition of those ciritcal workers that might now be eligible for a border exemption if they have a job here. Gone is the word 'unobtainable' to desribe the skills the migrant must possess and in comes 'not readily available. Clearly there has to be a demonstrable shortage of those skills but now we are talking about letting in people where there is not a whole lot of locals who might be available. Still a high bar, but one more people are going to be able to clear.
i. “unique experience and technical or specialist skills” include, but are not limited to, whether these skills
o have been gained in a specialist training institution or by working in a highly-specialist firm
o can be demonstrated through global experience
o are inherent to a person
ii. The factors that an immigration officer may take into consideration when assessing “not readily
obtainable” include, but are not limited to, whether:
o there are no workers in the country who could perform the role, or
o there is a very limited pool of available workers who could perform the role and they are not
available to the employer.
Border exemptions announced for those ordinarily in NZ but stuck offshore kicks off in early October. Applicants 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.
Auckland will be moving to Level 2 from Level 3 at mindnight this Sunday. That will be reviewed a week later. Masks on public transport will be mandatory. Highly enouraged in public. The rest of NZ contnues at level 2
Auckland has reported four members of one family testing positive through community transmission for the virus. The frst cases in 104 days.
As of a few minutes ago Auckland is now in lockdown level three (the rest of the country relatively unencumbered on level 2) and road blocks are being set up around the city to stop people entering or leaving.
In terms of Visa processing, the biggest INZ office (accounting for the majority of temporary and permanent Visa processing) is now closed for the three days laid down for this initial assessment period and we are awaiting advice from INZ management on what plan they have put in place to ensure the wheels do not grind to a halt again. We assume there will be no Plan B. They will close things down, process nothing and blame the virus.
Will make further announcements as INZ advises how they plan on dealing with this latest setback.
July 29 the government has today table to Bill which they are looking to become law next week. The purpose of that bill is to charge people who are arriving in New Zealand for the managed isolation and or quarantine. Broadly, those who ordinarily live in New Zealand on temporary or permanent visas, or who are residents or citizens of New Zealand will not be charged. It seems everybody else will be. The official announcement did not address Australian permanent residents or citizens who normally live in New Zealand But my conclusion is what separates those who do not pay from those who do is whether the person is ordinarily resident in New Zealand or they are arriving to settle permanently.
New Zealanders arriving home on short-term visits of less than 90 days will also have to pay.
The amounts are roughly $3100 per room with additional costs per adult and children of $475 each.
Further to the advice below, Government has confirmed that the blanket extension to those holding work visas that are due to expire before the end of the (presumed) calendar year does not apply to partners and children. They still have to apply separately if they wish for their visas t be extned for the same period.
I can only wonder what genius came up with that.
The New Zealand government confirmed today that anyone who holds a Work Visa that expires before the end of the calendar year 2020 will have it automatically extended without any application or fee for a further six months. Everything else about the work Visa remains the same e.g. employer and job specific.
Following last week's embarrassing early release of two recently returned NZers, who had not been tested while in quarantine and were found to be positive for Covid-19 only when got themselves tested when they arrived in Wellington, the government has brought in the military to supervise and run the quarantining programme. A major setback for the 'team of 5 million working together' and 'elimination/eradication narrative following weeks of spin and virtue signalling by the Government that told us they had this under control.
NZ now has 7 new cases - all imported and all in quarantine.
A new Minister is also in charge as the Government tries to work out the logistics of an ever increasing number of NZers wanting to come home but there not being enough quarantine beds for them. No rooms for temporary visa holders. Which rather puts paid to many more short term exceptions being made to temporary visa holders stuck offshore being allowed into the country in my view.
And for that matter and Trans-Tasman Travel Bubble as cases increase in Victoria and NSW in Australia.
Government announced (typically with little detail) changes to who can enter NZ:
Removing the need for partners and dependents of NZ citizens and residents to travel together when they have a relationship based visa or are ordinarily resident in NZ
Allowing entry of maritime vessels where there is a compelling (there's that undefined word again, 'compelling' - Iain) need
Diplomats to take up posts.
Introducing short term and long term criteria for other essential worker requests. INZ states "This exception is aimed at high value workers essential to time critical work on projects of regional or national significance'.*
They go on to say that 'We are working on establishing a joined up approach to labour market planning which will see our workforce, education and immigration systems working together to better meet differing and changing skills needs across the country' (which means they are announcing yet another 'piece of work' that will take forever and will likely be an abject failure....
*Criteria from 18 June 2020 for ‘other essential workers’ who may meet exceptions to the border closure:
For a short-term role (less than six months):
o The worker must have unique experience and technical or specialist skills that are not obtainable in New Zealand, or
o The work must be significant in terms of a major infrastructure project, or event of national or regional importance, or government approved programme, or in support of a government-to-government agreement, or have significant benefit to the national or regional economy, AND
o The role must be time critical (eg if the person does not come to New Zealand, the project, work or event will cease or be severely compromised, or significant costs will be incurred),
For a longer-term role (more than six months), the worker must:
o meet one of the short-term criteria AND
o earn twice the median salary (as an indicator of high skills), or
o have a role that is essential for the completion or continuation of science programmes under a government funded or partially government-funded contract, including research and development exchanges and partnerships.
o have a role that is essential for the delivery or execution of a government approved event, or programme that is of major significance to New Zealand.
An application to be determined as an ‘essential worker’ may also request approval for the worker’s partner and dependent children. Anyone approved under the ‘essential worker category must secure a place in managed isolation or quarantine for 14 days, and the costs of that managed isolation or quarantine are to be met by the employer or sponsoring agency, or the individual.
INZ has confirmed that no skilled migrant category resident visa application reeipted by them since 18 December 2018(!), has been allocated or processed unless it meets one of their two priority processing criteria (high salary or NZ ccupational registration). So when they start blaming Covid-19 for visa processing delays, remember that date. The virus was still inside a bat at that point!
We have been reassured today by a senior manager that if an applicant has a Skilled Migrant Category application sitting unallocated in INZ's backlog queue and you lose your job, although you are required to advise INZ they have said they will not rush to decline your application. If you find another job before they assess your application then you are going to be able to swap the job offers in and out.
Less helpfully when we asked how applicants who have lost their job, or have dropped below the minimum effective hourly rate or for some reason or other no longer are eligible for the 50/80 points for their job offer, INZ has said to us today:
'we would look to consider the individual circumstances of the applicant, whilst also considering immigration instructions applicable'
Not entirely sure what that actually means...nothing as far as we can tell in terms of anything certain.
We have been speculating whether 'being kind to one another' extends to how the Governmet intends treating migrants who have filed SMC resident visa applications whose circumstances might have changed as they sat in the backlog of cases INZ never got around to processing before the pandemic appeared. We might now have got our answer.
In a communications update today the following appeared:
‘The conditions in a work-to-residence work visa or a job offer associated with a skilled migrant category visa application must be met for the applicant to be eligible for residence. ‘
'Must be met'. Meaning if you have lost your job, do lose your job, have your hours and or have your pay cut then you are screwed.
So much for all being in this together. migrants are clerly not part of the team of 5 million and deemed expendable.
ITA residence relief
Government has today advised that any invitation to apply for residence under the skilled migrant category that was issued between 1 November 2019 and 15 April 2020 is being extended for six months. That's good news. What we don't yet quite know is whether Immigration will receipt applications that we have filed during lockdown which were technically incomplete because clients could not get documents such as police clearances Issued from overseas and careered to New Zealand owing to various Covid lockdowns but which had invitations expiring.
May 13 - Level 2
INZ advises that all offshore offices will remain closed (no hint for how long nor why).
Onshore, they are only allowing 70% of staff back into the local offices (one assumes that has something to do with social distancing - no talk of working say two eight hour shifts per day to clear the backlogs). Or working weekends.
Focus will be on onshore applications - SMC iResident Visas are once again being processed with the same priorities (high salary or ocupations with NZ registration only) as pre-lockdown.
No advice provided on lifting EOI suspensions for SMC, Parent or Investor.
And here is the important but not unexpected kicker for labour market tested work visas such as Essential Skills Work Visas. INZ has helpfully reminded us all of the high numbers of locally unemployed and the importance of employers demonstrating there is no local avalable to take up a job. Expect a blow torch to be held to these applications and high rates of decline on the basis that a NZer 'should be able' to do the job - whether or not they apply. Another way INZ has found to deal with their self created resident visa backlog.
Despite INZ advising in their last comms over a week ago that they would give priority to visa applications on the following list we have just been advised by a Manager that a client's son, in NZ, who needs a student visa issued so he can return to school next week (a simple, online application), our request for it to be processed has been knocked back on the basis it is not priority(!)
Here is what INZ website is now priority:
On top of COVID-19 related applications, INZ is prioritising the following visa categories:
- Temporary visa applications for Victims of Domestic Violence
- Partnership category temporary visas (including reassessments)
- Full fee paying student visas
- Post study work visas
- Exceptions to border restrictions
We just keep scratching our heads. Either the comms released last week was inaccurate or no one shared the news with the processing teams that can work inside INZ.
The Government has announced today that the country will move to Level 2 on Thursday. Yippee!!
Children return to school on Monday, all workplaces are open, universities will be back in action, restaurants, cafes, gyms and the like back operating (all with social distancing) and we can now travel around the country...we can even get. drink in a bar on 21 May.
Disappointingly but not surprisngly there is still no word however on when or if the Immigration Department will open and what they will do when they do open. I have a feeling they are still working out what their reaction to Level 3 might be. Started two weeks ago...ends on 48 hours.
The migrant world and their legal representatives await.
And in a stunning bit of unhelpfulness, the Immigration Department communications people have released an update today telling the world pretty much exactly what they told the world last week which was pretty much nothing.
They did however have a useful tip if you are an employer in New Zealand and you've offered a job to someone who is sitting overseas in possession of a Work Visa but who remains unable to travel to New Zealand owing to the border being closed to:
'.... consider alternative solutions, for example, employing someone already currently in New Zealand'
Isn't 'already' and 'currently' the same thing?
And gee thanks INZ for that splendid advice. What other examples of helpful 'alternative solutions' might you have in mind?
It has clearly escaped whoever wrote this unhelpful garbage that if the NZ employer could have found someone 'currently already in NZ' then they wouldn't have offered the job to someone who is not in NZ.
I wonder sometimes:
a) Where these people went to school given English isn't their strong suit; and
b) Which planet they come from because it sure as eggs isn't the one I am sitting on.
The government is tabling a Bill which allows them to make decisions on groups of visa applicants without forcing them into individual fee paying applications. It seems to be causing uncertainty in the market but taken at face value it looks a relatively benign step. It would allow for example those currently in New Zealand on temporary visas that are going to expire to all be granted "extensions" without them actually having to file individual applications. While most if INZ sits at home because they have an antiquated IT system this is going to allow blanket approvals and decisions without applications.
It also extends to suspending pool draws/expressions of interest and even invitations to apply for residence.
The bill requires the Minister to only draw on these provisions where it is necessary to mitigate or manage the direct impacts of COVID-19. The language is vague enough to allow him to do basically whatever he wants with these applicants under the name of Covid 19. The trusting side of me says nothing to see here folks and it's a pragmatic response but the side of me that deals with 'Immigration all day says we should be careful.
In specific questions I put to a senior manager today on when INZ is planning on returning to work, I was told that INZ is still 'planning' on how they get back to work under lockdown Level 3 (it started last night so you'd hope they don't take too long to come up with their plan because in two weeks we are likely to be down to Level 2!).
On the one hand I was told INZ has been working during lockdown yet at the same time they have admitted to not being able or 'allowed' to process many types of visas owing to capacity contraints (translation being they have little ability to work remoely). I was surpised they have been told they are not allowed to process some sorts of visas because apart from visas specifically required for the Covid-19 response, they are processing nothing.
We are still then nonethewiser as to when they might be back at work. Like, really at work and not claiming most of them sitting at home doing nothing is actual work.
As the rest of New Zealand looks forward to returning to work in some shape or form next Tuesday, the immigration department has announced that they will not be returning to work. With their "limited capacity" to progress visas they have indicated they are going to give priority to "victims of domestic violence" and partners and children of New Zealand residents and citizens. Incredible. Not in a good way.
April 21 Lockdown to level 3 Monday next week
The PM has announced we move from total lockdown to lockdown 'lite' (Level 3)
at midmight Monday.
Those that can work from home, must. Those that can work safely at their workplace, can.
Construction, manufacturing and forestry are all re-opening - with social distancing and no customer
facing allowed. Strict social distancing at work.
Retail can reopen but only online for delivery or click and collect - no customer facing - so most physical
stores to remain closed. Takeaway and drive through allowed to open
Schools - up to year 10 children (generally aged 14) to reopen but home schooling encouraged.
No word yet on what the Immigration Department's plans are... I shudder at the chaos
when they get finally back to work. INZ has announced 'usual processing times on visas'
effectively out the window.
April 16 9:15am
Not much news the past week out of Government but yesterday INZ released some minor changes to policy.
1. Families offshore that hold temporary visas separated by the border closure have been dropped
from the list of those that might be allowed to join a NZ partner or parent in NZ.
2. Those working in an 'essential industry' in NZ can now change jobs, upon application to INZ,
so long as the new employer is also an essential industry and is in the same geographical region.
3. International students, most of whom only have permission to work 20 hours per week, can now
change their hours to work more than that minimum
Apart from that we sit and wait and wonder what awaits....
April 9 6.10pm. Skilled Migrant Category - what exactly has been suspended?
Many clients are receiving an email from the Immigration Department causing a great deal of confusion about skilled migrant category resident visa applications that have been filed and are with INZ - many clients seem to think that SMC cases are not being processed. To be clear the Department is NOT suspending processing of applications filed (once they are out of lockdown and back at work). What is being suspended is pool selections - so no EOIs wil be selected until further notice.
April 9 1.15pm Mandatory government quarantine announced- a move beyond self isolation
Government has announced mandatory Government controlled quarantine for all returning NZers
(citizens and residents).
Government advises since the lockdown two weeks ago over 40,000 NZers have returned
meaning we simply didn't have the capacity or the processes in place to deal with it.
They now say that we do.
No word on what happens to non-Kiwis but you have to read into this the borders
will continue to be closed to virtually all foreigners.
Only 29 new Covid-19 cases reported in NZ in the past 24 hours - the fourth day
in a row and a signifcant fall.
April 9 10am
Skilled Migrant Category effectively suspended
Better late than never - INZ has confirmed that it is suspending indefinitely its Skilled Migrant Category pool draws and therefore no longer issuing Invitations to Apply for Residence. Their justiification is that there is no one working inside INZ during the lockdown to process. The other rationale is applicants won't have time to get their documentation together which is patently absurd. Around 95% of applicants are sitting in NZ on work visas so they will almost certainly have all the documentation to file applications at hand if they are invited to apply following any pool selection (and if they don't, they heven't been getting very good advice).
In other updates - temporary visa holders wanting to join family in NZ:
INZ added to their mail out comms late yesterday:
'As of today we have received 2,406 EOIS from people who believe they meet exceptions to the border closure. Of the 1,976 EOIs decided so far, just 369 met the criteria to apply for a visa'
Earth to INZ - if only 18% of those that believed they meet your criteria actually do meet your criteria, that suggests your messaging on eligibility may need a degree of clarification. Any chance of that actually happening?
Contradicting the official INZ website we have this morning been told that it is only those health and medical workers directly involved in the Covid-19 response that have been exempted from the border closure. INZ's website very specifically states that on a case by case basis applications can be made for humanitarain reasons, or where a partner/parent is in NZ on a temporary work or student visa and wishes their partner and/or children to join them and workers in 'essential industries'.
The information we have been given this morning by a senior manager is that the Government is still to work out what constitutes 'essential industries' and we already know that if you are a non health worker, and your parent or partner is in NZ, you are not going to be allowed in.
INZ needs to change its website to clarify who might be in with a shot during the border closure. And maybe reassign the Section 61 team back on to regular duties.
Applying for temp visa variations to jin family in NZ
Two clients each with a partner in NZ on a valid work visa, have now attempted to seek a variation of conditions via the newly set up Expression of Interest seeking a possible 'invitation' to apply for that variation to join their partner in NZ. Both were quickly declined. That strongly suggests, as I speculated late last week, that applying was a waste of time. So it has proven to be.
The Director General of Health has, in the past few minutes, confirmed that at least as far as he is concerned, the only people that will be allowed in are Kiwis and PR visa holders and those people that are crtical to dealing with the virus in NZ.
It is interesting to note that INZ's website refers to not only those people crtical to fighting the disease, might be grand an exception, but those working in essential industries. It seems what INZ and the DG of Health are talking at cross purposes.
And the messages being sent are, as usual, garbled and contradictory.
My advice however is that the border is closd and clietns and others should not waste their time clogging up INZ time by applying for these exceptions.
Skilled Migrant Category pool draws
Following on from the April 2 post below, an industry colleague confirmed to me late last week she was advised by INZ that there would be no SMC pool draws during the lockdown. I was advised that there would be. It seems logical there won't be draws during the lockdown but that being confirmed would be useful. If anyone at INZ is listening or reading this, some clarification would be appreciated!
No Skilled Migrant Category pool draw yesterday?
It appears no Skilled Migrant Category pool draw took place yesterday. We were advised by a senior INZ Manager a few days ago it was going ahead suggesting even senior management are out of the loop. No one from INZ has explained why, no press releases, nothing on INZ's web site, nothing sent to Advisers - yet again a communications void. I do not know what to read into this.
April 1 - Those stuck offshore
Late last night INZ released further information on who can travel to NZ while the borders are closed beyond the standard NZ citizens, permanent resident visa holders and Australian citizens or PRV holders who are usually resident in NZ. I note that no definition has been provided as to what 'normally' resident in NZ means which isn't very useful. Given a temporary visa is by its very definition for a finite, short stay it is hard to reconcile that with the holder having to show they'normally' live here. For how long? One month? Two months? Six months? Longer?
Government has put in place a process, via an online Expression of Interest, where you include your details and submit it. Someone, somewhere, somehow will make a call based on the information provided whether to approve a variation of conditions to the current visa being held by someone offshore which will, if successful presumably be annoted to includes words to the effects of 'Covid-19 response and during the border closure, the holder may travel to New Zealand before X date'.
You should note however the language used in the release.
'Consideration will only be made for people with exceptional circumstances who have a critical purpose for travelling to New Zealand. The starting point for any consideration is that for the protection of New Zealand the border is closed. Exceptions are only in place for extreme circumstances.'
The key words being 'exceptional', 'critical purpose', 'extreme circumstances' and the 'border is closed'.
That suggests a very high bar and I have a very strong feeling that missing your partner and or the children will not cut it.
Who then might this apply to and who not?
1. Most importantly for our clients - the partner and/or dependent child of a work or student visa holder (who is currently in NZ) may be granted entry as an exception so long as the offshore (not in NZ) visa holder 'normally' resides in NZ. This suggests if you have previously visited NZ, your partner or parent is still in NZ, you may be in with a shot. Without wishing to burst any bubbles, I don't think they will say yes but it may be worth a crack.
If however you have never used the temporary visa you hold to travel to NZ, you will not be approved.
2. Those who have been granted a resident visa but never used it to travel to NZ will not be allowed to enter - unless one of the the criteria in point 3 below applies.
3. Partners, dependent children and legal guardians of:
i. New Zealand Citizens or permanent resident visa holders may be okay, and
ii. New Zealand resident visa holders who are travelling to New Zealand for a second or subsequent time, may be okay and
iii. New Zealand resident visa holders whose resident visa was granted in New Zealand are okay
The kicker however is that the NZ resident or citizen party must themselves also be offshore (not in NZ) and travelling on the same flight as those with temporary visas if they are approved to travel.
There are others but these are the ones critical for our clients.
As we learn more, we will post more.
MARCH 30 - A few Visa changes
Government has today eased the work visa requirements for two groups of workers for a period of 30 days freeing them up to undertake more hours of work or to work in a role different to that specified if they hold a work visa:
Supermarket employees – only those as part of the Woolworths or Foodstuffs groups may now do any sort of work for that employer; and
Student Visa holders – where they were restricted to 20 hours per week, they no longer are (but it is not clear if there is any maximum hours of work they can work – one assumes so long as the amended employment relationship complies with all employment law, then the visa holder will be acting within these new 30 day rules.
MARCH 24 - What Visas Can Be Applied For On Partial Lockdown?
What visas can and cannot be filed?
The Resident Visa Operations Manager has confirmed this afternoon that:
1. Expressions of Interest (EOIs) under the Skilled Migrant Category can still be filed. The SMC fortnightly selection process is still underway or at least no official decisions have been made about stopping them. I do expect delays in getting Invitations to Apply (ITA), if any ITAs are generated at all. No word yet on how INZ will treat Resident Visa applications that cannot be filed within the four month deadline who have received an ITA.
2. Any Resident Visas filed (manually, in paper form, as they must be) will not be receipted nor entered into the system for allocation and processing. However, INZ will it seems ’deem it to have been lodged’ subject of course to checking in due course it meets the mandatory requirements to be receipted and accepted for processing.
3. Temporary visas - work, student and visitor - can still be filed electronically. I think it reasonable to expect delays in processing….
(i) Any person with a temporary visa expiring before 1 April must file a new application prior to 1 April. This needs to be done online. No information on what evidence INZ is expecting to accompany it e.g. are applicants for a work visa for example expected to provide evidence of labour market shortages? No idea…. Minimum lodgement requirements for a visa to be accepted under the Act is form (online), fee, passport sized photo (jpeg) and passport (copy). It should be noted that what is on INZ’s website and what the PM suggested a couple of hours later was slightly different and might be interpreted in a slightly different way. What we think the message here is tough is if you are INZ and your temporary visa is going to expire before 9 July, don’t worry….
(ii) Those with temporary visas expiring between 1 April and 9 July will according to INZ’s website be granted a new visa. What they do not explain is whether that is automatic (but that is what will means) and we note they have not advised if they expect any online application to accompany that. A strict reading of their website suggests not but we learned a long time ago (like Friday) that what they publish in their rule book and on their website are often two different things.
4. Those needing to apply for a variation of conditions on a work visa (changing like job for like job in the same region) must continue to do so manually. It is logical to assume that these applications will be held till the Department re-opens. I am giving the advice to our clients that they take up the new role. I am giving that advice because I know our applications are ‘decision ready’ and there is no reason for INZ not to approve it when they can.
That’s it for now folks.
Hoping the INZ Comms people get a whole lot more detailed in their advice.
MARCH 23 - NZ Complete Lockdown Wednesday
Last Thursday the NZ Government closed our borders to travel only to New Zealand citizens and residents.
A few hours ago, the Prime Minister announced New Zealand will be in full lockdown by Wednesday afternoon for a period of four weeks (initially). This means the immediate closure today of all non-essential businesses. Schools will be closed from Wednesday.
I think in the end the Government just couldn’t get through to enough people how grave this situation is.
Everyone in the country will be expected to isolate (individually or in self isolating groups) from today. This means an extended ‘staycation’. We are not prisoners in our homes, we are allowed to go out for walks and exercise for example but we must only do it with those people that we are isolation with. And stay 2 m metres away from others.
Supermarkets, pharmacies, hospitals and pizza parlours will remain open. Just joking. Anywhere where people gather inside or outside is now closed for the next four weeks including pizza restaurants, all bars, restaurants, theatres, gyms - all those communal places that you might imagine - anywhere human beings may gather in any sort of numbers.
This is drastic and even though there was only 100 reported cases earlier today including two believed to be community spread, the Prime Minister has acted decisively and sensibly in my view. As I indicated on Friday in my blog the government has announced further support mechanisms for business owners and their employees.
If we don't do those the Prime Minister stated the medical advice is that ‘tens of thousands of New Zealanders’ would have died. Reading between the lines she still expects many to not survive this outbreak but it does appear that we have got well ahead of where countries like the US, Italy and dare I say it, South Africa are likely to be in the coming weeks.
We are basically cutting ourselves off from the rest of the world apart from freight and the travel of essential personnel across the border.
Obviously clients have a million questions but one million is probably at least one fewer than we have right now. Here is what we can tell you:
1. The Immigration Department has been woeful in their communications over all of this. We know through ‘out of office’ auto replies a number of Managers are not in the branches and a few minutes ago I was advised by a senior official that all staff will now be sent home. I have been told in the past few minutes INZ is closed for business. He awaits advice from the Minister over what functions might continue - the rest are on holiday. I am told the only parts of INZ that are ‘essential business’ is their border unit. Visa processing onshore has now halted. Offshore offices might have some limited processing but given the border is closed it is hard to see the point….
2. Later this evening the Prime Minister will issue an ‘epidemic notice’. What this means is under the Epidemic Preparation Act 2006, anybody who is in New Zealand and whose Visa expires cannot become unlawful. Anyone then reading this in the country who cannot file another application or who has and which now will not be processed, for whatever reason - can stay in the country without fear.
3. Some clients, already in NZ and looking for jobs, are asking us whether they should stay on their visitor visas or head home. We cannot give a blanket answer to that one as everyone’s circumstances are different. The reality is they cannot become unlawful if they feel safer in New Zealand than in other countries (and again I'm thinking specifically of South Africa and my grave fears for how Covid-19 is going to unfold there). Those on visitor visas are not going to have access to the health system beyond the normal accident related issues should they have one but again you must weigh up the realities of what happens when, not if, our hospitals are overwhelmed with New Zealanders needing a bed. It has to be questionable how many employers are going to be offering too many people too many jobs for a number of months. You need to weigh up how long your money will last, what financial or family support you might have here.
4. We have a number of clients who have been separated from their family who want to know if those family members overseas can fly and join them. According to the published rules where one partner is in New Zealand on a work or student visa and the rest of the family is offshore with visas of their own, they can fly - but all our clients trying to fly have been prevented from doing so. We have a number of clients separated by the virus and the border closure desperate for clarity. This is what the rule book says:
1. Humanitarian reasons
2. Essential health workers as confirmed by the Ministry of Health
3. Other essential workers as defined by the New Zealand Government
4. Citizens of Samoa and Tonga for essential travel to New Zealand
5. Partners or dependants of a temporary work or student visa holder, and currently resident in New Zealand where the temporary work or student visa holder is currently in New Zealand.’
Although, in point 5 above, the second part of the sentence is absolute gibberish, the first part is very clear. If you are not in New Zealand but you hold a temporary visa and your partner, or in the case of a dependent child, is in New Zealand currently on a work or student Visa you should on a case by case basis, as an exception, be allowed to board your flight to New Zealand.
We have begged the Immigration Department to clarify this because point 5 above is pretty simple to understand… if anyone is overseas looking to join a partner who is in New Zealand on a temporary work or student visa, and who goes to the airport to check-in, you can expect the airline to call the Immigration Department in New Zealand and while the answer should be that you should be able to travel - they probably won’t let you.
No one can tell us why.
Either we don’t understand English, the rule as written is incorrect or the airlines have been told something different.
What infuriates me is what happens to clients that should have been allowed to fly but were kept out by incorrect advice being given to airline staff, if indeed the idea was they should have been able to come to NZ.
Although there is an awful lot happening at the moment in New Zealand and I'm sure these government agencies are busy, we are mortified that we are all being left in the dark not just in terms of who can still travel to New Zealand but what is happening inside the department itself. It is shameful.
Stay tuned for more updates as we can provide them.
MARCH 19 #2 - Exceptions to the Border Closure
Following on from our newsflash of a few minutes ago, INZ has just posted a very hastily written piece of advice on their INZ website which seems to contradict what the Prime Minister said earlier today. The website states and I quote verbatim:
‘Exceptions can be made on a case by case basis by Immigration New Zealand for:
The holder of a visitor visa who is the partner of (sic) dependent of a temporary work or student Visa holder and who normally lives in New Zaland (sic) and is currently in New Zealand’
There are a number of obvious questions that I have sought answers to including:
1. Is there a formal process to gain an exception and what is the process?
2. Why only visitor visas or is this a typographical error or omission? There are plenty of clients who have partnership work visas for example who I don’t imagine the government meant to exclude.
3. How do we define “who normally lives in New Zealand’?
I have sought some answers from a very senior manager in charge of temporary visas and as soon as we know the answer we will come back to everyone. I do believe that if you do hold a valid temporary visa of any kind and your partner is in New Zealand then they’re not trying to exclude those people.
Presumably however they will require the recently arrived family to go into isolation but I suspect it will be a small price to pay.
Until we can find out more…..
MARCH 19 - NZ Border Closure
At 6 pm New Zealand time the Prime Minister of New Zealand announced that the border is being closed to all non-New Zealand citizens and non (permanent) resident Visa holders, effective 11.59 tonight NZ time.
She has not given any indication how long this ban on people entering will be in place.
Anybody who is “en route to New Zealand” is not covered by the ban and will be allowed to enter. What we cannot tell anyone is if that means your last airport if you are transitting to the country e.g Sydney or where you started your journey e.g. Johannesburg. The not unexpected bombshell (rumours have been swirling al day) is a little short on detail.
It should be noted that anyone who is in New Zealand on a work, visitor or student Visa and who was expecting a partner and/or children to join them, needs to understand this will now no longer be possible. The government has only said that medical personnel and limited “humanitarian" cases will be exempt. Again, no detail on what constitutes humanitarian but I don’t expect it will mean partners and children of those in New Zealand on temporary visas.
I’m hopeful there will be more detail available to us in the morning New Zealand time and I urge you to contact your lead consultant here IMMagine.
I do know the only way we are going to get rid of this virus is for everybody to self isolate, practice strict ’social distancing’ and this is one part of the NZ Government’s plan to ensure the health of New zealandrs and it is a prudent decision which will lead to the quickest way of ridding ourselves of the virus.
MARCH 14 - Mandatory self-isolation for all travellers to NZ from Sunday night
In the interests of getting ahead of the breaking news we are sending this message to all our clients. I intend for all our clients to be contacted who might be affected by this on Monday when the team is in the office and you are welcome to email your lead consultant (or me) any questions you might have in the meantime.
A couple of hours ago the NZ Government announced all passengers arriving in NZ will be required to ‘self isolate’ for 14 days. This takes effect at midnight tomorrow (Sunday).
This is not a travel ban.
Only those travelling on Iranian and Chinese passports or who are transiting through those countries en route to NZ (if that is even possible today) are actually banned from entering New Zealand. Everyone else remains welcome once they’ve done their 14 days of laying low.
We await further details of exactly what self isolation means. I am still in South Africa along with my wife and youngest son and we won’t be home till the new isolation rule is put in place so we are going to find out soon enough but clearly it is going to be a voluntary thing and it’s more ‘taking one for the team’ than anything the Government can actually control. I am assuming that we will still be able to head out to the supermarket and pharmacy (although of course you can order everything you need online and have it delivered in NZ). And I’m not sure how anyone could be stopped anyway….
Part of me says this is an over reaction. Here in South Africa there has been one reported case of the coronavirus although I am sure there are many more not yet reported. The reality is I’d have more chance of getting the virus if I was working in my Melbourne, Australia office!
Another part of me says it is better that we take the hard economic hit this will undoubtedly cause and come out of the ‘pain’ sooner than those countries stiff faffing around (like the US) or who moved too slow and too late (Italy).
I wish everyone though would just listen to the science here - this virus DOES NOT KILL 98% of those that get it. Hells bells, even Tom Hanks thought he just had a cold!
The fact is however the government has made this move and we need to live with it.
To those clients planning on travelling to find jobs our advice it so ‘keep calm and carry on’ with the plan. Getting jobs takes 6-12 weeks for the vast majority of our clients so spending the first 14 das getting over jet lag, chilling and starting to apply for jobs online is not going to be too much of an inconvenience.
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In-depth analysis and clear explanation of the situation .
Very informative and knowing that someone (you) is analysing every detail for us to understand better what our future holds as possible immigrants. Hubby is already in Oamaru and working on a 3 year visa. We're (kids and I) still stuck not knowing how to move forward.
Thanks for your info and updates.