The 'extreme circumstances' migrants can enter New Zealand during coronavirus lockdown

Despite the Government's strict border controls amid the COVID-19 pandemic, migrants can still apply for a visa to enter New Zealand, but only if they have skills that contribute to essential services. 

The exemptions are limited to those entering the county for a "critical purpose", such as essential health workers and people who can contribute to industries maintaining delivery of the Government's response. 

"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," Immigration New Zealand (INZ) has advised on its website. 

The exemption extends to those who hold a "key clinical or non-clinical position", including those working for a district health board (DHB), the New Zealand Blood Service, a hospice or in palliative care, a primary care practice, or an aged residential care facility. 

A migrant's application to enter New Zealand will be considered if they have a signed offer of employment and have a commencement date from March to June 2020. 

The migrant must have a role that meets the criteria, and that includes medical doctors, nurses, midwives, psychiatrists, physiotherapists, as well as certain types of technical medical workers and support staff. 

The full list can be found here

Partners and dependent children of essential health workers who will accompany them may also be included in the request. 

People are also allowed to enter New Zealand if they are family members of citizens and residents, or if they are Australians who normally live in New Zealand and want to return to their family. 

Those who are applying as a family member or partner must be travelling back to New Zealand with a citizen or resident. Those who are not will be told to stay put until the pandemic is over. 

"This process will provide this group of people with certainty that they can travel to New Zealand rather than risk being denied boarding for flights to New Zealand," INZ says. 

Samoan and Tongan citizens are also allowed to make essential travel to New Zealand, but that does not apply to their partners or dependent children, as they must have their own critical purpose for travelling. 

The Government closed New Zealand airports to transitioning passengers, with the exception of Australian citizens on March 25, as part of COVID-19 restrictions. 

Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Peters has announced that New Zealand will now enter into transit arrangements with a range of countries to make it easier for each other's citizens to get home.

Getting a visa during lockdown

Immigration lawyer Aaron Martin explains how if a migrant meets INZ's requirements, they will be invited to submit a formal residence application online within one month. 

Once they have completed the application, they will receive a confirmation that a response will be given within 48 hours, however, INZ has indicated that its ability to process visas for medical personnel coming into New Zealand is "limited". 

"It appears there will be some backlog in processing these visa applications," Martin said. "Sadly, the status quo everyone experiences when dealing with INZ is that it does not have the resources to process the necessary volume of work."

He suggested INZ look at hiring some of the increased numbers of unemployed skilled New Zealanders to process the backlogs. 

"Once the lockdown is lifted, if INZ hires those who are out of work, it could get on top of its workflow - especially the 18-month-long queue of resident applications. 

"This would provide meaningful work for New Zealanders who have lost their job as a consequence of COVID-19."

Martin said while INZ's updated border regulations will also give certainty to people when attempting to board inbound aircraft, it doesn't solve the practical difficulty of how to get a flight. 

"That is becoming increasingly complex as international airlines shut down their international services."

Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield has confirmed that stronger border measures for New Zealand are "under active consideration" after increasing concerns about arrivals spreading COVID-19 in New Zealand. 

The National Party is calling on the Government to require all people arriving in New Zealand to undergo at least 14 days of mandatory quarantine.