As we know, the New Zealand border is currently closed to almost all travellers to help stop the spread of COVID-19. There are some exemptions to the closure:

  • If you qualify as someone to whom the border closure does not apply;
  • Immigration NZ consider that you have a critical purpose for travel such as critical health workers, other critical workers and humanitarian reasons;
  • If you are a partner or dependent child of a New Zealand citizen or resident, and your visa is based on this relationship.

However, this still has left many families separated on other sides of the world, facing months being apart, not knowing when they will reunite.

What does this mean for partners and dependent children of New Zealand citizens who do not hold a visa based on their relationship?

If you do not have a visa based on your relationship with a New Zealand citizen or resident, in that case, you will need to apply for a travel exemption if:

  •  you are travelling with your New Zealand citizen or resident family member, or
  • you ordinarily reside in New Zealand.

However, many families are living in limbo trying to get an exemption to unite with their families who are already in New Zealand because they do not meet one of the above exemption rules. Partners are left with the uncertainty of when they can reunite with their loved ones. Some of their stories are heart breaking.

Many partners have attempted to apply for a travel exemption request on humanitarian reasons. Still, they are almost impossible to obtain due to Immigration New Zealand’s strict criteria and lack of transparency.

Humanitarian Exemptions

Obtaining a travel exemption request for a humanitarian reason is no easy route as the bar set is very high. INZ is applying the Immigration and Protection Tribunal’s definition of “exceptional circumstances of a humanitarian nature”. The circumstances “must be well outside the normal run of circumstances” and they need to be an “exception rather than the rule”. Family separation is a natural consequence of the current pandemic, and partners are expected to make their case an exceptional one.

According to Radio NZ’s recent article on 4 August 2020, “as of 30 July, INZ had received 28,081 applications for border exceptions and of those 5763 have resulted in an invitation to apply for a visa.”  That’s about a 20% success rate.

There is also a Facebook Group “NZ Citizens And PR’s Separated from Partners by NZ Border Closure” set up for all partners who are affected by this border closure. The group has over 1.6K members—another method of urging a revisit of the border restrictions and reuniting families.

How does this apply to individual people’s circumstances? Family separation is a distressing situation on its own. Young children have not seen their parents for months and are unable to understand why. Fathers are being denied the right to join their pregnant partners in New Zealand because they do not meet the strict criteria of humanitarian circumstances that are out of the norm. If your request is refused, there is no way to appeal the decision. The criteria for humanitarian circumstances is not black and white, and there are a lot of grey areas.

Partners have been submitting multiple requests on humanitarian circumstances with the hope that one of them will be approved. We are aware of a 7 months’ pregnant NZ citizen who has submitted multiple requests to get her partner to New Zealand for the birth of their child but has had no luck in meeting these strict criteria, despite the emotional impact it will have on her and her young child. There appear to be inconsistencies in INZ’s decisionmaking, where other partners in a similar situation have been approved a travel exemption.

Therefore, it is critical, when you request humanitarian circumstances, to make your case clear. Explain what supporting evidence you will be able to provide if you are invited to apply for a visa.

When making a humanitarian exception, Immigration New Zealand takes into account the following factors:

  • Your connection to New Zealand;
  • Your primary place of residence and your current location, how safe you are wherever you are living, your circumstances back home;
  • How long you have been away from New Zealand;
  • Whether there are alternative options available to you;
  • The impact of not giving an exception.

You must first submit an expression of interest using the online request form. Once your request is submitted, INZ will then conduct a balancing exercise based on the information provided in your request. If Immigration NZ considers that your travel is likely to meet one of the categories for an exception based on the information you submit in your request form; you will be invited to apply for a visa which matches your reason for travel. There is an expression of interest fee of NZ$45 that you will need to pay at the time you submit the request.

Therefore, partners and dependent children of New Zealand citizen can travel to New Zealand if they hold a visa based on their relationship, or they are ordinary residents in New Zealand, or they are travelling together. Suppose you are going to make a travel exemption request on humanitarian circumstances. In that case, you need to put your case wisely and carefully to Immigration NZ taking, into account the factors they will consider. This is a particularly difficult exercise, because you have just 3000 characters (about 300 words) to make your case.

Feel free to contact Laurent Law for assistance on how to approach these travel exemptions.