Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway has announced new short-term and long-term categories for border exemptions. Photo: Lynn Grieveson

Existing visa holders stranded overseas have largely been left out of a new set of exceptions to our border controls 

People will be allowed to apply for short and long-term exceptions to our strict border controls under a new set of criteria. 

However, no category has been carved out for more than 10,000 New Zealand visa holders who have rights to travel here but are stuck overseas.

The Government has granted border exceptions to two syndicates who will challenge Team New Zealand for the America’s Cup. 

Team American Magic have been granted an exception for 102 workers and 104 family members and INEOS Team UK for 86 workers and 128 family members. 

All those who apply for exceptions will now face fees when they apply.

Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway said the Government was working on a solution for work visa holders who had travel rights to New Zealand.

“We are working on a longer-term border strategy and we are exploring how we can create an isolation system that could support 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.” 

The National Party is now pushing for borders to be opened for international students.

National said it supported the return of work visa holders to New Zealand provided the labour market test for their job was met (no other New Zealander was willing to take the job) and they could be quarantined.

The Government has also ditched a rule that required partners of New Zealand citzens to accompany their partners on flights that would return them here.

The situation had led to what one Immigration lawyer had termed “mayhem” as Kiwis flew into Covid-affected countries to retrieve their spouses.

Short-term exceptions

Individuals who wanted to move to New Zealand for a period of six months or less would have to demonstrate they had a “unique” level of experience or a specialist skillset. 

Or they would need to be travelling for a “time critical” piece of work – defined as: “if the person does not come to New Zealand, the project, work or event will cease or be severely compromised”. 

That work or event could be part of an intergovernmental agreement, a major infrastructure project, an event, a Government-approved programme, or any other work of “significant benefit” to the economy.

The $106,000 exception

For longer-term stays, individuals would have to satisfy one of the short-term exceptions and meet two of three other criteria: 

Workers would have to either earn at least twice the median wage ($106,000), be essential to a Government-approved event/programme of significance, or be essential to a research programme. 

More fees

More than 13,000 applications for exceptions have been submitted, with more than 10,000 declined.

Businesses who want to apply for border exceptions would now have to pay between $250 and $440 per application. Individual applicants would need to pay between $30 and $50. 

Employers who managed to win a border exception would also need to fund the managed isolation of workers they brought in.

Maritime exceptions

People could also seek exceptions if they travelled to New Zealand by sea where there was a “compelling need” to travel here. 

That was defined as: the delivery of a yacht or other vessel, discharge of a fishing catch, or crew changes. 

People who flew in by air to replace crews of ships that docked here would be exempt from border restrictions. 

High cost of quarantine

A Christchurch quarantine facility will be re-opened to cope with a large number of New Zealanders who are expected to return.

Details of the move were outlined in a proactively released cabinet paper accompanying the border exception decision. 

The Government had previously closed the Christchurch quarantine hotel after it finished isolating a group of guests who had entered the country.

However quarantining capacity across the country was low.

We now have capacity to quarantine 228 people per day. The theoretical capacity was 250, but the extensive cleaning and sanitisation required after guests moved out took a number of these rooms out of circulation. 

Almost all of the quarantine facilities were in Auckland (14) with the exception of one currently operating in Wellington. 

Ramping this capacity up would come at a cost and there was no system in place that would allow foreign nationals to be charged for quarantine.

The main expenses were associated with the cost of the New Zealand Defence Force, Aviation Security, Customs, and other services required to run these hotels.

“Work is underway exploring how to expand to a system allowing alternative non- government funded isolation facilities, but there would need to be a mechanism to ensure compliance.”

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