Helping families reunite and supporting economic recovery with border exceptions

  • Hon Phil Twyford
  • Hon Iain Lees-Galloway
Economic Development Immigration

Today the Government is taking the next steps to safely help reunite New Zealand families, and support economic recovery without increasing the risk of COVID-19, say Economic Development Minister Phil Twyford and Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway.

Key changes include:

  • 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
  • Allowing entry for diplomats taking up new posts
  • Introducing short term and long term criteria for Other Essential Workers requests

“Our border restrictions help us protect New Zealanders from COVID-19 so we are carefully taking steps that keep us safe while ensuring families can reunite and we support economic recovery,” said Iain Lees-Galloway.

“We are removing the requirement for partners and dependants of New Zealand citizens and residents who have a relationship-based visa or are ordinarily resident in New Zealand to travel together to be granted an entry exception. This will be a great relief for families separated by the border closure.

“The bar for being granted an exception to the border restrictions is set high, and remains high, to help stop the spread of COVID-19 and protect the health of people already in New Zealand. Everyone coming in will still need to do 14 days of managed isolation or quarantine so we are working within our current capacity of 3200 for the facilities run by the Ministry of Health,” said Iain Lees-Galloway.

The numbers as at 10 June

  • 15,331 requests for a border exception

    (this is across all exception categories, and includes duplicate applications)
  • 2,914 of those have been invited to apply for a visa
  • 2,456 visa applications have been approved

A subset of this is Other Essential Workers

  • 2,372 people have made requests
  • 237 individuals have been invited to apply (around 10 percent of all approvals)

Economic Development Minister Phil Twyford said as part of the Government’s new long-term border management, Immigration NZ is strengthening its processes and criteria for employers who need workers for significant economic activities, to stop key projects being delayed or avoid negative impacts on the wider economy.

“We expect demand to increase as the economy starts up again. We need to balance demand for specialist and critical workers while supporting a rapidly changing labour market.

The Government has granted border exemptions to two syndicate teams who will challenge Emirates Team New Zealand for the 36th America’s Cup, Phil Twyford said. The 36th America’s Cup is expected to create massive economic spin-off for New Zealand. The series of events will conclude with the final match for the America’s Cup being held in Auckland in March 2021.

The US Challenger, team American Magic, will bring a total of 102 workers, along with 104 family members, to New Zealand. INEOS Team UK will bring in a total of 86 workers and 128 family members and one nanny. Syndicates are expected to be in New Zealand for up to ten months.

The America’s Cup teams across all international syndicates are estimated to contribute over $100 million into the economy during their time in New Zealand.

“The Government and Auckland Council have made significant commitments and investments in building infrastructure for the event. The America’s Cup would not be able to go ahead unless these international syndicate teams are allowed entry into New Zealand. Approving these border exemptions allow the teams to start setting up their bases, and carry on key design and boat testing that can be progressed from our shores in New Zealand,” Phil Twyford said.

To streamline the process, decisions on Other Essential Workers requests under the new criteria will be made by Immigration NZ. We are introducing two distinct criteria depending on whether the work is short or long term.

Phil Twyford said the threshold for entry for Other Essential Workers remains very high. “Businesses should ensure no alternative options are available before applying.”

Other changes include:

  • A new maritime exception will allow entry to those arriving at the maritime border, where there is a compelling need for the vessel to travel to New Zealand. Border restrictions will also not apply to replacement cargo ship crew arriving in New Zealand by air and transferring straight to a cargo ship to leave New Zealand. This will help keep our shipping routes open. Most maritime journeys to New Zealand take more than 14 days, so crew and others will self-isolate on route, and won’t impact New Zealand’s quarantine capacity.
  • The diplomatic exception, which allows re-entry to those who normally live here, is being expanded to include diplomats taking up new posts in New Zealand.

Officials are working to implement these changes as quickly as possible and we expect the changes to partners, other essential workers and diplomats will be in effect by the end of next week, with the maritime changes in place later in June.

Iain Lees-Galloway said the Government will continue to review the way we manage our border as New Zealand recovers from COVID-19.

“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,” said Iain Lees-Galloway.


An ‘Other Essential Worker’ is someone who an employer can demonstrate meets the following criteria:

For a short-term role (less than six months):

  • The worker must have unique experience and technical or specialist skills that are not obtainable in New Zealand, or
  • The work must be significant in terms of a major infrastructure project, or event of national or regional importance, or government approved programme, or in support of a government-to-government agreement, or have significant benefit to the national or regional economy, AND 
  • The role must be time critical (eg if the person does not come to New Zealand, the project, work or event will cease or be severely compromised, or significant costs will be incurred).

For a longer-term role (more than six months), the worker must:

  • meet one of the short-term criteria AND
  • earn twice the median salary (as an indicator of high skills), or
  • have a role that is essential for the completion or continuation of science programmes under a government funded or partially government-funded contract, including research and development exchanges and partnerships.
  • have a role that is essential for the delivery or execution of a government approved event, or programme that is of major significance to New Zealand.

Any employers granted an exception to bring in workers on these grounds must fund their managed isolation, and will need to work with the Ministry of Health to book spaces in managed isolation or quarantine. In some cases, such as with larger groups, they may need to work with Ministry of Health to develop an alternative managed isolation plan. Visa requirements still apply.

The accommodation supply is determined by the health requirements for facilities and the support required to manage them. The wraparound support services are provided by government agencies, for example, the New Zealand Defence Force, Aviation Security, Customs, and there is currently no mechanism for the costs of these services to be charged back to foreign nationals.