Immigration Act 2009: What the changes will mean for New Zealand visa applicants

The New Zealand Immigration Act 2009 enables the
collection of biometric information as well as other
changes to the immigration system.

The New Zealand Immigration Act 2009 will come into effect in November, bringing a number of changes to the New Zealand immigration system. The Immigration Act is the result of the most comprehensive review of New Zealand immigration legislation in 20 years, with its introduction intended "to manage immigration in a way that balances the national interest, as determined by the Crown, and the rights of individuals".

The provisions of the Immigration Act 2009 are not yet in force, with the majority of the provisions will come into effect on 29 November, 2010. Until then the provisions of the Immigration Act 1987 apply.

The changes of the Immigration Act 2009 can be summarised as follows:

  • Introduction of a universal visa system;
  • New interim visas;
  • Facilitating passenger processing;
  • Incentives for third parties to comply with their obligations;
  • A new classified information system with special safeguards;
  • More flexible compliance and information powers;
  • A tiered detention and monitoring system;
  • A new refugee and protection system;
  • A single independent appeals tribunal; AND
  • The legislative ability to use biometrics.

I'll now explain a few of these points which I think warrant further explanation and could have an effect on New Zealand visa holders and applicants.

Will the new Immigration Act affect current New Zealand visa or permit holders?

No. All existing visa or permit holders will be deemed to hold a visa of a corresponding type under the Immigration Act 2009, meaning there is no need to apply for a new visa or permit.

What classes of visa will the Immigration Act 2009 allow for?

The Immigration Act 2009 will allow for the following classes of visas:

Residence class visas
  • Permanent resident visas – holders are entitled to travel to and gain entry permission into New Zealand and may stay indefinitely without conditions.
  • Resident visas – holders may be subject to conditions but will be entitled to travel to, enter and stay in New Zealand in line with those conditions.
Temporary entry class visas
  • Temporary visas – these will have a variety of different types and names – for example, visitor visas which will allow a holder to stay in New Zealand for the purpose of visiting, and work visas which allow a holder to stay and work in New Zealand.
  • Interim visas – these can be granted for the purpose of maintaining lawful status in New Zealand, where someone has applied for a further visa and their application is being considered.
  • Limited visas – these can be granted to people who wish to come to New Zealand for an express purpose.
Transit visas
  • Transit visas - These allow a passenger to remain in transit if they are travelling through New Zealand to another destination.  Not everyone will require a transit visa.

What is the universal visa system and how will it affect New Zealand visa applicants?

The universal visa system is a welcome introduction as it looks set to make New Zealand migration legislation easier to understand by removing the current distinctions thast are made between the categories of 'visa', 'permit' and 'exemption'.

Instead, the single term 'visa' will refer to the authority to travel to, permission to enter and stay in New Zealand. Without exception, all foreign nationals who wish to enter New Zealand will require a visa, as opposed to a permit or exemption for certain individuals. However, the ability to waive the visa requirement for travel to New Zealand will be retained for certain countries (e.g. Australia).

What are interim visas and how will they work?

Interim visas have been introduced to maintain a foreign national’s lawful status in New Zealand where they have applied for a further visa and their application is being considered. This is another positive change, as previously, applicants whose current visa expired while they were applying for a new visa would need to leave the country.  With interim visas, a foreign national’s lawful status will be maintained while their application is being considered.

What does the 'collection of biometric information' mean?

The new Immigration Act will enable the future collection and use of specified biometric information from foreign nationals for identity verification purposes.  This will include photographs, fingerprints and iris scans of foreign nationals to verify their identity upon entry to New Zealand.

How will the Immigration Act 2009 affect employers?

Under the Immigration Act 2009 (and the Immigration Act 1987), an employer must not employ a foreign national who is not entitled to work in New Zealand or for that employer. This applies whether or not the employer knew that the foreign national was not entitled to work.

This is just an introduction to the Immigration Act 2009, and we'll be covering it as the changes are implemented and we have a better understanding of how they'll affect our clients. However, to read more about, click here to see full details of the act on the Department of Labour's website.

- Jodie List is Casework Department Manager for the New Zealand Visa Bureau.