Epidemic management notice issued – immigration ramifications and visa processing

For the first time the New Zealand Government has issued an Epidemic Management Notice under the Epidemic Preparedness Act 2006. The Notice comes into effect on Thursday 2 April 2020.

What does this mean?

All individuals who are onshore holding temporary visas that expire on or before 1 April 2020 must make an online application to extend their temporary visas on or by 1 April 2020, if they are unable to leave New Zealand.

Upon application those individuals will be issued an interim temporary visa valid for a period of 6 months allowing a continued stay until a decision can be made on their full extension application (or they have departed the country which cancels the interim visa).

All individuals who hold temporary visas that expire from 2 April 2020 to 9 July 2020 (inclusive) will have their visas extended automatically to late September.  Each applicant will be advised of the expiry date of their visa by email.

When is the Notice likely to expire?

Section 63(1)(d) of the Immigration Act 2009 specifies that temporary visas are issued under a Epidemic Management Notice will expire three months following the expiry of the Notice in question. What this means is that it looks like the Notice will be in place in New Zealand for a minimum of a two month period, not the four week lock down period only. This gives us the first official glimpse of the potential length of these unprecedented measures.

What applicants and their employers should now consider

All individuals holding visas that expire before 1 April 2020 must act swiftly to file their applications on time.

While it is tempting to rely on the “free” extension offered for those who have visas expiring from 2 April to 9 July, there is a catch here that applicants and their employers should be aware of. The successful extension of a work visa, in particular an essential skills work visa, is dependent on a satisfactory labour market check being undertaken; that being, the New Zealand employer has made a genuine attempt to hire a New Zealander but has failed to locate anyone who is suitable or trainable for the position.

As the epidemic and related business stress continues to unfold over time, it will become harder and harder for businesses to secure work visa extensions for their migrant staff due to the availability of potential replacement staff.

While we advocate a New Zealanders first policy, which is the Government’s approach to assessing work visas, the point here is that the immigration policy does not take into consideration how long the migrant in question has been employed with their employer, nor in most instances how personally skilled they are for the role in question. If a New Zealander is available or potentially trainable for the role, even if it will take a long period of time to train them to the skill of the incumbent migrant, or the migrant is clearly the best person for the role, the work visa of the migrant can still be declined. The risk of these declines grows larger with the increase in the unemployment rate. In our experience, without question at the beginning of recession related decision making INZ apply the policy very strictly, meaning that there may well be visas declined where they should have been issued.

Individuals and their employers looking to secure longer temporary visa extensions (two or three years) should look to prepare and have applications assessed sooner rather than later, because it will become much harder to renew these work visas in a recessionary environment post the lifting of the Epidemic Management Notice.

How should applications be made to Immigration New Zealand during the closure?

Immigration New Zealand has advised that all of their processing hubs onshore in New Zealand are now closed, with only a few staff working remotely.

In addition to further processing delays, this means any paper based application currently held or made  to them, whether that be for a temporary visa or a resident visa, is effectively on hold for at least the entire lockdown period as it cannot be processed.

Applicants wishing to have temporary visa applications considered during this time must submit their applications online, as those applications can be transferred remotely to offshore processing offices (such as Beijing which will come back on line soon).

For further information or assistance with emigration please contact Lane Neave Lawyers on + 64 3 379 3720 or email liveinnewzealand@laneneave.co.nz

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