New Zealand’s rich cultural diversity is reflected in its openness to individuals from various backgrounds, including those seeking to engage in religious work within the country. To facilitate this, Immigration NZ has established the Religious Worker Instructions, a framework for obtaining Work and Resident Visas. However, the specific conditions attached to these visas have sparked discussions and concerns in recent times. In this blog post, we will delve into the conditions associated with religious worker resident visas and explore whether it is time for Immigration NZ to reevaluate and modernise these guidelines.
Understanding the Conditions
Resident visas granted under the Religious Worker Instructions are subject to two primary conditions:
- Exclusive Religious Work: Visa holders are required to exclusively engage in religious work for the sponsoring organisation for a period of five years from their first day as a resident in New Zealand.
- Sponsor Obligations: The sponsor of the visa holder must meet their obligations for five years from the visa holder’s initial day as a resident in New Zealand.
Furthermore, the multiple entry travel conditions on the Resident Visa must remain valid for five years from the visa holder’s first day as a resident in New Zealand.
Challenges Faced by Religious Workers
In recent years, several cases have emerged where religious workers who successfully obtained residency in New Zealand found themselves at risk of deportation due to breaches of these conditions. Common scenarios include:
- Failure to apply for a Variation of Conditions: some religious workers may not have applied for a variation of conditions on their resident visa to change their sponsoring organisation during the five-year period.
- Temporary Gaps in Religious Work: they may temporarily be unable to work for their sponsoring organisation due to various reasons, such as issues with their existing sponsor or the need for additional time to find a new sponsoring organisation.
We have recently assisted an applicant who faced potential deportation due to failing to apply for a variation of conditions to change the sponsoring organisation during the five-year resident visa. In this particular scenario, the applicant was under the impression that continuing to work for any religious sponsoring organisation throughout the five years satisfied the conditions of his resident visa. He was not aware that he needed to apply for a variation of conditions to change the sponsoring organisation recorded on his Resident Visa. This oversight placed him and his family at risk of deportation, and potentially impacted the community of faith he founded and where he holds a leadership position. The congregation is innocent of the errors the applicant innocently made.
The failure to apply for a variation of conditions underscores the need for professional help and adequate advice. Religious workers serve charitable organisations, and seeking professional assistance can be burdensome. Furthermore, church ministers may prioritise the needs of their community over understanding the visa requirements they must fulfill over five years.
Is It Time for a Review?
Why should an applicant be required to be sponsored by a religious organisation for a five-year period? Why should religious workers be bound to a single sponsoring organisation for such a long time, especially when their primary mission is to serve their community? Is it fair to restrict them from applying for an indefinite Permanent Resident Visa until they have fulfilled the conditions on their Resident Visa for five years?
Considering the challenges and complexities faced by religious workers in adhering to these conditions, it is essential to question whether Immigration NZ should reconsider and modernise the instructions governing religious worker resident visas.
- Flexibility: The five-year exclusivity condition may limit the adaptability of religious workers to changing circumstances. Offering more flexibility, such as allowing applicants to work for any religious sponsoring organisation (probably, of the same denomination) without the need for a variation of conditions, could benefit both the workers and the sponsoring organisations. Alternatively, reducing the condition period to three months or twelve months could be considered, or removing this requirement altogether.
- Temporary Gaps: Religious workers should not face deportation risks due to short-term interruptions in their religious work. Immigration NZ could explore creating provisions to accommodate such situations without jeopardising a worker’s residence status.
- Streamlined Processes: Simplifying the process for religious workers to apply for a variation of conditions could promote compliance and reduce the administrative burden on both the workers and immigration authorities.
The current conditions imposed on religious worker resident visas in New Zealand have led to challenges and, in some cases, deportation threats for individuals genuinely committed to contributing to New Zealand’s religious communities. It may be time for Immigration NZ to reevaluate and modernise these instructions to strike a better balance between protecting the individual’s residence status and addressing the unique challenges faced by religious workers. In doing so, New Zealand can continue to extend its warm welcome to individuals who enrich New Zealand’s cultural and religious diversity.
Feel free to contact us if you are faced with liability for deportation or have any questions with respect to meeting your Resident Visa conditions. Some situations can be fixed before you become liable for deportation.