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Overview of New Zealand’s immigration system

New Zealand’s visa system

What does a New Zealand visa let me do?

Immigration Act 2009, ss 43(1), 71(1), 79(1)

If you are not a New Zealand citizen, then being in New Zealand legally usually depends on having current permission from Immigration New Zealand in the form of a “visa”.

You can apply for a New Zealand visa from overseas and, once you get to New Zealand, you can apply for entry permission. All non-citizens of New Zealand need “entry permission,” as well as a visa, to be able to get into New Zealand in the first place (unless you are a citizen of a “visa waiver” country – see note below).

Once you’re in New Zealand on a current visa, the visa gives you the legal right to stay here for the time stated in the visa. If you then leave New Zealand, the visa also lets you return here and apply for entry permission again, so long as your visa hasn’t expired. If you’re in New Zealand on a current visa, you also have the legal right to apply to Immigration NZ for a further visa to cover you when your current one expires (see: “No right to apply for a new visa if you’re here unlawfully” below).

Note: For some countries (“visa waiver” countries), you don’t need a visa to travel to New Zealand and ask for entry permission. Instead, when you arrive you can apply for your visa and entry permission at the same time. For all other countries, you apply for a New Zealand visa in your home country and then travel here and apply for entry permission when you arrive (see: “Travelling to and entering New Zealand”).

Are you in New Zealand “lawfully” or “unlawfully” (legally or illegally)?

Immigration Act 2009, s 14

As a non-citizen, you can lawfully be in New Zealand only if you have a current visa (or if you’ve applied for or been granted refugee status). If your visa has expired, or if you never had a valid visa in the first place, this means you’re here unlawfully and that you may have to leave New Zealand.

The government may remove you (“deport” you) if you haven’t left voluntarily within a certain time. You do, however, have some options that could give you the right to stay, including some specific appeal rights (see: “If you’re here illegally: Understanding your options”).

Note: New Zealand’s immigration system doesn’t use the terms “legally” and “illegally” when talking about whether you have a current visa and therefore a legal right to be in New Zealand. The official terms are “lawfully” and “unlawfully,” and “lawful status” and “unlawful status”. So, in this chapter, we’ve generally used the terms “lawfully” and “unlawfully”.

No right to apply for a new visa if you’re here unlawfully

Immigration Act 2009, ss 14(2), 20, 71(1), 79(1)

If you’re in New Zealand and you let your visa expire, you’ll be here unlawfully and won’t have a right to apply for a new visa. So, if you’re in New Zealand under a current visa and want to stay longer than this visa will allow, you need to make sure you apply for a new visa before the current one expires, and that you apply early enough for Immigration New Zealand to process your application before the current visa expires.

The fact that you’ve simply applied for a new visa doesn’t of itself give you a right to be in New Zealand. However, Immigration New Zealand can decide to grant you an Interim Visa so that you keep your legal immigration status while they’re considering your application.

If you’re here unlawfully, one option is to leave New Zealand voluntarily and access the visa system from overseas. Leaving New Zealand “resets” the system for you, allowing you to apply for a visa once again. If, however, you stay here until Immigration NZ forcibly deports you, you’ll face a ban on returning to New Zealand for a certain number of years (see: “Accessing the immigration system: Who can apply for a visa and who can’t”).

However, it’s not totally impossible to get a new visa from within New Zealand once you’re here unlawfully, because Immigration NZ has a broad power (a “discretion”) to grant you a new visa in this situation. However, you have no right to apply for the visa in these cases and have Immigration NZ properly consider your application. They can simply choose to ignore your request for a visa if they want to, without even considering it. It’s different when you apply while you’re here legally, as Immigration NZ then has a legal duty to at least consider your application.

What different types of visa are there?

The two main classes of visa are Temporary Entry Class Visas, which allow you to work, study or visit here for a limited time, and Residence Class Visas, which let you live here permanently.

Immigration Act 2009, s 70

Here’s how the immigration laws formally break down the different types of visa:

  • Temporary Entry Class Visas
    • Temporary Visas – Immigration New Zealand divides these into Work Visas, Student Visas and Visitor Visas
    • Limited Visas – These let you be here only for the particular purpose allowed by the visa – for example, to get medical treatment
    • Interim Visas – If you’ve applied for a new Temporary Visa, Immigration NZ can decide to grant you an Interim Visa so that you keep your lawful immigration status while your application is being processed.
  • Residence Class Visas
    • Resident Visa – This is the first stage of getting New Zealand residence. The “Resident Visa” lets you live and work here indefinitely, but there are still some travel restrictions for two years. After two years you can apply for a “Permanent Resident Visa”.
    • Permanent Resident Visa – This lets you live and work in New Zealand permanently, and there are now no travel restrictions, so you can leave and return to New Zealand whenever you like.

Another type of visa – a Transit Visa – lets you be in New Zealand legally at the airport for up to 24 hours while you’re on your way to somewhere else.

Immigration Act 2009, s 44

Note: You can hold only one current visa at a time.

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Where to go for more support

Community Law

Your local Community Law Centre can provide you with free initial legal advice.

Find your local Community Law Centre online: www.communitylaw.org.nz/our-law-centres

Immigration New Zealand

Immigration New Zealand is the government organisation that deals with visa applications and other immigration issues. It’s part of the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment.

Website: www.immigration.govt.nz
Phone: 0508 558 855

The Operational manual contains immigration instructions that people who want to come to New Zealand must follow. While it is not a step-by-step guide, it will help you follow Immigration New Zealand’s processes. Access it here: www.immigration.govt.nz/opsmanual

See also Immigration’s policies and processes: www.immigration.govt.nz/about-us/policy-and-law/how-the-immigration-system-operates

Immigration and Protection Tribunal

The Immigration and Protection Tribunal determines appeals on Immigration New Zealand’s decisions about refugee and protection matters.

Website: www.justice.govt.nz/Tribunals/immigration/immigration-and-protection

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