7 Apr 2020

Immigration and travel: Your Covid-19 questions answered

5:41 pm on 7 April 2020

As Covid-19 spreads around the world, it can be daunting keeping up with the information. For RNZ, our responsibility is to give you verified, up to the minute, trustworthy information to help you make decisions about your lives and your health. We'll also be asking questions of officials and decision makers about how they're responding to the virus. Our aim is to keep you informed.

Tens of thousands of people have effectively been made 'Covid-19 refugees' with the border closures here and overseas.

Air New Zealand planes parked up at Auckland Airport during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Air New Zealand planes parked up at Auckland Airport as borders shut down. Photo: Supplied / Air New Zealand

It has left nearly 100,000 visitors scrambling for ways to get home; people who had called New Zealand home stranded in other countries and split families.

See all RNZ coverage of Covid-19

It means there are a lot of questions about immigration rights and rules.

Here's a Q&A to help you out:

If the border is closed then why are some people still allowed in?

It is closed to most travellers but New Zealand citizens and permanent resident visa holders can return. Resident holders who haven't visited here yet - which is what activates the visa - are excluded. When people do return, of course, they must go into self isolation for 14 days.

I'm the partner of a New Zealand citizen, what are my options?

If you are the partner, child or legal guardian of a citizen or a permanent resident visa holder you can make a request to travel here. You can make the request to travel here via this link. Again, if you are a resident visa holder but hadn't already travelled here, then you cannot come at this time.

I'm a Kiwi stuck overseas, who do I call?

If you are seeking emergency consular assistance call +64 99 20 20 20 (if overseas) or 0800 30 10 30 (if in New Zealand).

The government has advised New Zealanders overseas who are intending to return home to do so as soon as possible due to the increasing number of border closures and difficulties with international flights.

If you are after up-to-date flight information contact your airline or travel agent first.

I'm an Australian who calls NZ home. What are my options?

You can also make a request to travel here. These are being vetted by Immigration NZ (INZ) staff and if they approve the request you will be contacted directly about what you should do. INZ has warned it is taking two days or more to respond due to the number of applications.

I'm stuck here on a visitor visa which is due to run out and I'm worried I will get in trouble. What can I do?

Rest a little easy. If you hold a visitor, work, student, limited or interim visa with an expiry date of 2 April to 9 July inclusive, and you are still in New Zealand, your visa will be automatically extended to 25 September 2020. You should have received or be sent an email confirming this extension. If you haven't then contact INZ.

My visa expired before 2 April. Should I be worried?

Possibly a little. INZ says it does mean you are here illegally. Your options are either leave the country immediately, which may not be physically possible, or to request from INZ a special temporary or resident visa under Section 61 of the Immigration Act.

I was on a working visa in NZ but was on annual leave in my home country when the borders were shut. Am I shut out now?

You had to be in the country to get an extension to your visa if it was due to run out. Practically, it is unlikely that you will be able to return because the borders are closed; flights have become difficult to connect with and it's prohibitively expensive. You can make a request to return but INZ is warning 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 exceptions may include: health and other essential workers; visitor, student or work visa holders who normally live here, and who are the partner or dependent of a temporary work or student visa holder who is currently here; humanitarian reasons.

Partners and dependents can be included in such requests. For a list of positions considered essential and more on the exceptions click here.

Am I eligible for the work subsidy if I was on a working visa but I'm now out of the country due to being on a holiday which started before the lockdown?

This from employment law expert Ashleigh Fechney: "Unfortunately, if we consider the law; the obligation to pay wages only arises because an employee is ready, willing and able to work. In this case, the employee is not ready, willing and able to work because he is not in New Zealand. Even if the company had work available to him, he couldn't work. He is one of the groups of people that fall between the cracks. But, if the employer (wrongly) applied for the subsidy on his behalf, then that subsidy must be paid to him (or reimbursed to the government)."

Can I change my visa conditions if my employer shuts down and I find other work?

That's not entirely clear at this point. INZ says: "It may be difficult for you to make an application to vary the conditions of your current visa. We will provide more information once it is available."

As a student visa holder I have had to stay overseas and defer my study. What impact will that have in the future?

INZ says that if you have deferred to later in the year or early 2021, and your visa will remain valid over this period, your education provider should notify INZ. Your file will be updated with this information. Your visa remains valid and your visa travel conditions still apply. If you decide to cancel your study plans, contact your education provider.

I'm here as a tourist. Can I get out?

Yes. Foreign nationals can travel domestically in order to reach Christchurch or Auckland airport to take an international flight. They can drive, take ubers, taxis or public transport, or take domestic flights from Auckland, Wellington, Nelson, Christchurch or Dunedin airports, in order to connect with a commercial or chartered international flight. However, you must meet strict health criteria before travelling and have all your travel plans in order. Do not go to the airport unless you have a ticket. You can find more information here.

If you can't travel and require more support in NZ you should first contact your relevant consulate or embassy for help. Here's a list of those.

  • If you have symptoms of the coronavirus, call the NZ Covid-19 Healthline on 0800 358 5453 (+64 9 358 5453 for international SIMs) or call your GP - don't show up at a medical centre

Read more about the Covid-19 coronavirus:

  • Wage subsidy and workers' rights: Your Covid-19 questions answered
  • Your Covid-19 questions answered: Working under the lockdown
  • Law experts answer your Covid-19 employment questions