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Immigration & refugees

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Some of the rules explained in this chapter are contained in immigration and refugee policies issued by the government, rather than by laws passed by Parliament. You can find all the current immigration and refugee rules (including both policies and laws) in Immigration New Zealand’s “Operational Manual”, available online at: www.immigration.govt.nz/opsmanual. For more details about using the Operational Manual and how to check for changes to it, see the Note at the start of our “Immigration” chapter.

If you’re afraid to go back to your own country, you can ask New Zealand to recognise you as a refugee. Immigration New Zealand has to recognise your refugee status if you meet the definition of “refugee” in the 1951 UN Refugee Convention. In broad terms, this is someone who can’t go back to their country of origin because if they do they’ll be harmed or ill-treated because of their race, religion, nationality, social group or political opinion.

Sometimes people who need protection fall outside that “refugee” definition – for example, if those factors of race, religion and so on don’t exactly apply to them. New Zealand law therefore also recognises the additional category of “protected person”, which appears in the UN Convention against Torture and the UN Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. However, requests in New Zealand for recognition of “protected person” status aren’t common.

In this section, we explain who qualifies for refugee and protected status, how to claim that status, and what you can do if Immigration New Zealand rejects your claim.

People who’ve already been recognised as refugees by the UN High Commission for Refugees may be able to resettle in New Zealand under the UNHCR Refugee Quota scheme: see below, “UNHCR Refugee Quota”.

Note: People who claim refugee status are sometimes called “asylum seekers”.

Two separate schemes: The visa scheme and the refugee status scheme

Immigration Act 2009, ss 7(1), 125, 150(2), 164, 388(6); Legal Services Act 2011, s 7(1)

The refugee claims scheme in the Immigration Act (including the “protected person” scheme) is separate from the Act’s main immigration visa scheme. This is shown in a number of different ways:

  • You can claim refugee status if you’re in New Zealand, regardless of whether you’re here legally or illegally.
  • Once you’ve claimed refugee status, you usually can’t be deported while you’re waiting for your claim to be decided.
  • If you’re in New Zealand on a Temporary Visa and you make an unsuccessful claim for refugee status, you’ll then be barred from applying for a further visa of any kind, so long as you remain in New Zealand.
  • Legal Aid is available for refugee status issues, unlike other immigration issues.
  • Decisions about refugees are made by Refugee and Protection Officers in Immigration New Zealand’s separate Refugee Status Branch. Refugee and Protection Officers only deal with refugee claims, not visa issues; in the same way, Immigration Officers can only make decisions about visa issues, not refugee issues.

    Note: Another section of Immigration New Zealand, the Refugee and Protection Unit, coordinates government and community support for refugees and protected people in New Zealand.

What are my rights if I’m granted refugee or protected status?

INZ Operational Manual: Residence, S3.10; Refugees and Protection, C5.15.1

Once you’re recognised in New Zealand as a refugee (or protected person), you usually can’t be deported. However, you’ll need to apply for a Resident Visa to allow you to live and work in New Zealand indefinitely (see the chapter “Immigration” in the section “Residence Class Visas: Living in New Zealand permanently). Getting residence isn’t automatic, but it’s usually granted.

Immigration Act 2009, ss 129(2), 130(4), 131(4), 164(3), (4); United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees 1951, Articles 32.1, 33

There are significant restrictions on whether a recognised refugee or protected person can be deported:

  • Refugees – You can’t be deported unless you’re a threat to “national security or public order” or you’ve been convicted of “a particularly serious crime”, see “Deportation: Being made to leave New Zealand” in this chapter.
  • Protected person – You can’t be deported back to the country where you’re in danger, but you can be deported to a different country if the grounds for deportation are satisfied.

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Where to go for more support

Community Law


Your local Community Law Centre can provide free initial legal advice and information.

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.


You can read Immigration NZ’s Operational Manual at www.immigration.govt.nz/opsmanual

Immigration and Protection Tribunal


Red Cross Refugee Trauma Recovery


This Refugee Trauma Recovery service provides clinical and therapeutic support to former refugees who have experienced torture and/or trauma. The service is available to children, young people and adults.

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