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Communtity Law Manual | Immigration | Overview of New Zealand’s immigration system



New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990, s 18(2); Immigration Act 2009, s 13

New Zealand citizens can leave and return to New Zealand whenever they want, and they can live, work and study here indefinitely. This chapter is aimed at people who aren’t New Zealand citizens – it explains when they’re legally allowed to enter and stay in New Zealand and what they’re allowed to do when they’re here (for example, whether they’re allowed to do paid work).

If you’re not a New Zealand citizen and you have an immigration problem, you’ll need to work out what your current immigration status is – that is, whether you’re here “lawfully” or “unlawfully” (legally or illegally) – and then what types of visas might be available to you and what options you might have for getting a visa (for example, applying in the usual way or applying as a special case because you’re here illegally).

This section gives an overview of those basic questions and how the New Zealand immigration system works.

Checking for recent changes to the immigration rules

Many of the immigration rules explained in this chapter are contained in policies issued by the government, rather than by laws passed by Parliament. Because of this, immigration rules can be changed more easily than other laws. Please check for any changes since we published this edition of the Community Law Manual.

You can find all the current immigration rules (including both policies and laws) in Immigration New Zealand’s “Operational Manual”, available online at: If a particular immigration rule we cover in this chapter is from government policy rather than law, we include a reference so you can find it in the Operational Manual – for example, “INZ Operational Manual: Temporary Entry, W2.15” for rules about funds requirements for Work Visas.

You can check if a particular policy has been changed since we published this chapter by looking at the date note (in orange, on the right hand side) at the end of each section of the online Operational Manual. For example, the section W2.15 currently has the note “Effective 21/11/2011” at the end, which means that the rules in that section of the Manual haven’t been changed since 21 November 2011.

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