12 Jun 2020

Government reveals new border exceptions to 'help reunite' families

4:51 pm on 12 June 2020

New measures announced by the government today will help safely reunite New Zealand families and support economic recovery, Labour says.

Airport arrivals board showing New Zealand and Pacific countries

A board showing international arrivals to Auckland Airport. (File photo.) Photo: RNZ/Sara Vui-Talitu

Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway said the government was removing the requirement for partners and dependants of New Zealand citizens and residents who had a relationship-based visa or were ordinarily resident in New Zealand to travel together to be granted an entry exception.

"This will be a great relief for families separated by the border closure," Lees-Galloway said.

"The bar for being granted an exception to the border restrictions is set high, and remains high, to help stop the spread of Covid-19 and protect the health of people already in New Zealand. Everyone coming in will still need to do 14 days of managed isolation or quarantine so we are working within our current capacity of 3200 for the facilities run by the Ministry of Health."

The key changes:

  • Removing the need for partners and dependants of NZ citizens and residents to travel together to return home when they have a relationship-based visa or are ordinarily resident in New Zealand
  • Allowing entry of maritime vessels where there is a compelling need
  • Allowing entry for diplomats taking up new posts
  • Introducing short term and long term criteria for Other Essential Workers requests

He said it was a very small step in loosening the border.

Other changes:

  • A new maritime exception will allow entry to those arriving at the maritime border, where there is a compelling need for the vessel to travel to New Zealand. Border restrictions will also not apply to replacement cargo ship crew arriving in New Zealand by air and transferring straight to a cargo ship to leave New Zealand. This will help keep our shipping routes open. Most maritime journeys to New Zealand take more than 14 days, so crew and others will self-isolate on route, and won't impact New Zealand's quarantine capacity
  • The diplomatic exception, which allows re-entry to those who normally live here, is being expanded to include diplomats taking up new posts in New Zealand

The new maritime exemption could include vessels being delivered for refit and repair, responding to emergency and humanitarian situations, crew changes, discharge of catch, or resupply.

Lees-Galloway said because most maritime journeys to New Zealand took more than 14 days, crew would self-isolate en route, and would not impact New Zealand's quarantine capacity.

Economic Development Minister Phil Twyford said Immigration NZ was strengthening its processes and criteria for employers who needed workers for significant economic activities, to stop key projects being delayed or avoid negative impacts on the wider economy.

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Phil Twyford. Photo: RNZ /Dom Thomas

Essential workers here for short-term roles of less than six months will need to have unique experience or specialist skills that are not obtainable in New Zealand, or be part of a major infrastructure project or event of national or regional importance.

The role must also be time critical.

Anyone staying longer than six months would need to meet additional requirements.

The threshold for entry for Other Essential Workers remained "very high", he said.

Decisions on Other Essential Workers requests under the new criteria would be made by Immigration NZ.

"We are introducing two distinct criteria depending on whether the work is short or long term."

Government officials were working to implement changes "as quickly as possible", Twyford said.

"We expect the changes to partners, other essential workers and diplomats will be in effect by the end of next week, with the maritime changes in place later in June."

He said workers had already been coming through in recent weeks with a similar set of criteria from the primary industries, infrastructure and film production sectors.

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