New Zealand full border reopening date set, significant changes for immigration, international students announced

New Zealand's border will completely reopen from the end of July, including to cruise ships and international students, as the Prime Minister declares Aotearoa "fully open for business".

The Government's also using the opportunity to introduce "rebalanced" immigration settings with a key component being a "Green List" featuring 85 hard-to-fill roles that will have simplified application and residence pathways. 

There's also changes to the rights given to some international students after they finish their courses.

The final stage of the plan to reconnect New Zealand with the rest of the world - after shutting the borders during the COVID-19 pandemic - has been brought forward from October to 11:59pm on July 31.

"New Zealand’s international border will reopen to all tourists and visa holders two months earlier than planned on 31 July," Jacinda Ardern said on Wednesday. 

"This will be welcome news for families, businesses and our migrant communities. It also provides certainty and good preparation time for airlines and cruise ship companies planning a return to New Zealand in the peak spring and summer seasons."

New Zealand citizens, as well as vaccinated individuals from visa-waiver countries, were allowed to return to the country earlier this year. The July reopening will mostly affect people from non-visa-waiver countries.

Ardern said New Zealand is "in demand and now fully open for business".

Tourism Minister Stuart Nash said the reopening allows New Zealand to reconnect in time for our traditional peak visitor season.

"Our wider tourism sector is on the way to recovery. We will be fully open to the world in mid-winter, traditionally our quietest period for visitors. Bringing forward the date allows prospective travellers to apply for visitor visas well ahead of time before taking the next step to book a flight or a cruise for future travel," he said.

"Approximately 90 percent of cruise visits are during the warmer months of October to April, and summer is our bumper tourism season overall. Today’s announcement means it’s full steam ahead for the industry who can plan with certainty for the rest of the year and beyond."

PM Ardern made the announcement on Wednesday.
PM Ardern made the announcement on Wednesday. Photo credit: Getty Images.


But as the border reopens, New Zealand's immigration settings are also changing. 

The Immigration Minister, Kris Faafoi, said New Zealand "cannot return to pre-pandemic trends that saw us overly reliant on growing numbers of lower-skilled workers". He said this resulted in the "increased exploitation of migrants".

"Our plan is to grow skills at home. Over the past two years, over 190,000 New Zealanders have benefitted from Government investment in trades training, including apprenticeships.  On Monday we announced an extension to the Apprenticeship Boost scheme which will see a further 38,000 New Zealanders supported into a trade."

The Government last year announced it was committed to an "immigration reset", with the Prime Minister foreshadowing that New Zealand would shift away from low-skilled and low-paid work to attracting high-skilled migrants. A speech given at the time by Nash, on behalf of Faafoi, was criticised at the time for lacking detail.

According to Faafoi on Wednesday, the "cornerstone of our rebalance" is a new Green List, which he hopes will "incentivise and attract high skilled migrants to New Zealand, by providing a new streamlined pathway to residency for those globally hard to fill roles". 

It creates two pathways for residence, while the current Skilled Migrant Category is under review. There will be a number of requirements around the roles. 

For roles on a "Fast Trackers 'Straight to Residence' pathway"  - including project builders, civil engineers, psychiatrists and vets - migrants in those occupations can come to New Zealand on a work visa from July 4 and then apply for residency in September. From September, residency can also be applied for directly from offshore. 

Other occupatons on a "Work to Residence pathway" will be able to apply for residency after two years. These include audiologists, midwives, some teachers and registered plumbers. 

Migrants paid at least twice the median wage in other roles can also apply for residence after two years.

The Green List replaces the existing skills shortages list. Any roles that appear on the skills shortages list but not the Green List won't be exempt from a labour market test unless they are paid double the median wage. 

"Our rebalanced immigration system will be simpler, reducing categories, bringing more online accessibility and streamlining application processes for businesses," Faafoi said. 

"Through the Accredited Employer Work Visa, employers won’t need to provide as much information, can use their own recruitment processes to prove no New Zealanders are available for work, and Immigration New Zealand will endeavour to have these visas processed within 30 days once an employer is accredited."

The minister said the Government has worked closely with businesses on the reforms and understands "that for some sectors it will take time to transition away from a reliance on cheap migrant labour."

"The Government recognises that shift for some sectors is more challenging than others by establishing new sector agreements to assist with the transition. They will provide access for specified sectors to lower-paid migrant workers, and all those employers can continue to hire working holidaymakers at any wage.

"The tourism and hospitality industries in particular have been hit hard by the pandemic. The Government has agreed to temporarily exempt tourism and hospitality businesses from paying the median wage to recruit migrants on an Accredited Employer Work Visa into most roles. 

"Instead, a lower wage threshold of $25 per hour will be required until April 2023. This follows the recent $27 per hour border exception that was granted around certain snow season roles to help the sector prepare for winter tourists.

"New sector agreements for the care; construction and infrastructure; meat processing; seafood; and seasonal snow and adventure tourism sectors will provide for a short-term or ongoing need for access to lower-paid migrants."

About 20,000 visa holders with visas expiring before 2023 are also being granted a six-month extension or a new two-year visa with open work conditions, Faafoi announced. This is so they and their employers aren't affected by the upcoming changes. 

Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi.
Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi. Photo credit: Newshub.

International students

The border reopening also means all international students who meet the normal entry criteria can return. 

Education Minister Chris Hipkins said on Wednesday that more than 5000 have already been confirmed for entry as part of previous border exemptions. 

"But the future will be different, we won’t be going back to National’s volume over value approach that became a backdoor to residency for lower-skilled and lower-paid migrant workers, who were then at risk of exploitation.

"Changes we’re announcing today seek to attract students to New Zealand to learn, while also shutting the backdoor route to residency."

These include:

  • Students in non-degree level courses will not get post-study work rights except where they are studying and then working in specified shortage and skilled occupations
  • For degree-level and other eligible international students the length of time they can work after their studies will mirror the time they study in New Zealand. Currently some students can work for up to three years after just 30 weeks’ study. Masters and PhD students will retain the right to work in New Zealand for up to three years after their studies
  • Students will also not be able to apply for a second post-study visa in New Zealand.