COVID-19: Border exemption changes made by the Government

The Government says it will relax border controls meaning some people can travel home if they have a relationship-based visa.

Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway and Economic Development Minister Phil Twyford on Friday announced border exemption changes, including allowing diplomats to take up new posts and introducing short and long term measures for other essential worker requests, and removing the need for citizens and residents to travel together to return home.

Lees-Galloway said the border restrictions will continue protecting New Zealanders from COVID-19, the deadly respiratory disease caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus. There are currently no active cases of the virus in the country.

The Ministry of Health announced earlier this week that from Tuesday night, any returning Kiwis would be tested twice for the virus during 14 days of managed isolation. Lees-Galloway said those rules will still apply under the changes.

Twyford added the threshold to enter the country for other essential workers remains high. However, workers can apply for a visa should businesses conclude no alternative options are available.

"We expect demand to increase as the economy starts up again," Twyford said in a statement on Friday.

Immigration NZ will manage decisions around exemptions for other essential workers.

"We are working on a longer-term border strategy and we are exploring how we can create an isolation system that could support [the] further opening of New Zealand's borders, for example for current holders of temporary work visas and international students while continuing to effectively manage health risks from overseas arrivals," Lees-Galloway said.

Changes made:

  • 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
  • Entry for diplomats taking up new posts will be allowed
  • Introducing short term and long term criteria for Other Essential Workers requests.

Business leaders are welcoming the changes, saying they will save livelihoods and jobs.

"This is a good move from Government in recognising the critical importance of being able to facilitate people through our border in a way that manages and mitigates risk, and it will have a real and significant impact on New Zealand’s economic recovery," said ExportNZ executive director Catherine Beard.

"The same urgency that the country has taken in the health response to saving lives now needs to go into saving livelihoods through the economic recovery phase."