So, you’ve managed to successfully secure a job offer from a New Zealand employer and you’ve lodged your work visa application. But your application is taking a long time to process and you’re feeling bored at home with nothing to do with your time. Being the hardworking person that you are, you decide to make yourself useful by visiting your prospective employer’s place of work to become familiar with their processes / systems and to meet your soon-to-be colleagues. You turn up to work and you see how busy everyone else is, so you decide to help out. You greet customers, make coffee and maybe even answer a phone call or two. You’re not getting paid to do any of this so it’s basically like volunteering, right? Wrong.


Recently, we have had to advise several clients to leave New Zealand voluntarily or else face deportation all because they did not clearly understand the conditions of their visa. This was in large part due to their ill-conceived decision to undertake work when their temporary visas did not explicitly allow for it. Their situation arose due to a genuine misunderstanding of the rules and was completely avoidable.

Work is defined under the Immigration New Zealand (“INZ”) Operational Manual as anything done for “gain or reward“. The term is defined so broadly that almost any activity could be captured by this definition thus making it a dangerous trap for unsuspecting migrants. The situation isn’t helped by the ambiguous information available on INZ’s own website. For example, in answer to the question, “Can I do unpaid work while visiting New Zealand”, INZ’s website states [emphasis added]:

“On a visitor visa you can do volunteer work while in New Zealand, provided you receive no gain or reward.

You must not expect or receive gain or reward for the volunteer work you do.

Gain or reward is any payment or benefit that can be valued in terms of money.

Examples include:

  • accommodation, such as board or lodging
  • goods, such as food or clothing
  • services, such as transport
  • training.

If your intention is to receive gain or reward, you are not considered to be a volunteer and should consider applying for a work visa.”

As you can see, “gain or reward” includes training. Learning the ropes or assisting the prospective employer with basic tasks such as photocopying or moving boxes, could be captured by this broad definition of work even if you voluntarily offer up your time and help, and are not paid for it.

The consequences of working in New Zealand without the legal right to do so are potentially catastrophic and frankly not worth the risk. Section 157(5)(a) of the Immigration Act 2009 makes it clear that a temporary visa holder can be deported for breaching visa conditions, which of course includes working illegally. Something as seemingly innocent as answering the phone can – and will – be construed as an activity being done for gain or reward. If that should happen, INZ will in most cases commence deportation proceedings, which unfortunately is very difficult to overcome. It is therefore not unusual for people who find themselves in this unenviable position to leave New Zealand (voluntarily or otherwise), never to return. All that sacrifice for naught.

The upside to all of this of course is that this situation is entirely preventable. It is therefore always a good idea to tread cautiously with all things visa-related, and to seek advice if you are ever in doubt.