A recent announcement by Immigration New Zealand indicates that Government has determined to introduce an “Electronic Travel Authority” (ETA), for travellers to New Zealand. It is expected this will come into effect for air passengers and crew in the second half of 2019.

At the moment, there are countries whose citizens are able to travel to New Zealand and be granted a three month Visitor Visa on arrival. This is called a “visa waiver”. There are also certain other cases where a visa waiver applies and travellers to New Zealand are not required to first apply for a Visa, including citizens of Australia and those who hold a current Permanent Residence or Residence Visa issued by Australia.

The ETA means that before coming to New Zealand, travellers will need to fill out a form online and pay a fee. This will be similar to the ESTA process that the United States of America has for travellers there.

Immigration New Zealand says that when people don’t have to apply for Visas to travel to New Zealand, they only learn about them when they are on their way to New Zealand. This means INZ is unable to screen travellers in advance for border and immigration risks and have a reduced ability to make entering New Zealand smoother and faster as technology allows. The ETA is therefore considered to be an improvement in process. Australian citizens will be exempt from needing to hold an ETA, but Australian Permanent Residents will need to hold one.

At the same time the fee for the ETA is paid, from the second half of 2019 some travellers will need to pay an International Visitor Conservation and Tourism Levy. This too is a new measure announced by Government, for the purpose of ensuring international visitors contribute to the infrastructure they use while in New Zealand and also to help protect the natural environment they enjoy while in New Zealand. Most international visitors entering New Zealand for 12 months or less will need to pay a levy of $35. There will be some exceptions, for Australian citizens and permanent Residents and for people from many Pacific Island countries including Tonga and Samoa.

Furthermore, from November 2018 the Government has determined to do away with departure cards. Travellers leaving New Zealand will no longer need to fill in the cards before flying overseas. No longer having departure cards is indicated to save travellers time, and it is something of an anachronism because few other countries still use them. Relevant details about the travellers will still be able to be collected through other methods.

However there are no plans at the moment to do away with arrival cards, which still capture relevant immigration and biosecurity information.  The arrival card is treated as a de facto visa application.  Thus, for example, the answers which people give to questions on the card can be used against them if they are inconsistent with other information gathered about the person – such as their activities in New Zealand after their arrival.  The classic case is the difficulties encountered by South Africans coming in on “look, see and decide” (LSD) trips

The introduction of the ETA and International Tourist levy may represent a more protective approach being taken by Government in relation to the arrival process in New Zealand. The decision to do away with departure cards may on the other hand be seen as imposing less restriction, however this seems to be on the basis that information collected by these cards can be collected through other methods.