People from countries like South Africa, the UK, France, the US and many other “developed” countries enjoy visa waiver status.  This means that they can travel to New Zealand without needing to apply for a visa first, and obtain a Visitor’s Visa on arrival for, say, 3 months.

There are two key things to understand about this process.  The first is that even “visa-free” people apply for a visa – they do it by completing the Arrival Card on the ‘plane.  That card is their visa application, and remains on their Immigration records.  The second is that merely getting a visa does not guarantee “entry permission”, which is the right to set foot outside the border area on New Zealand soil.

On the Arrival Card you are required to declare the purpose of your visit.  This becomes a problem if you are not sure what your purpose is.  Some might come on a “Look, See, Decide” (LSD) trip with a view to possible migration.  Others may have a vague hope of finding a job.  If you declare such an intention before arrival, there is a risk that Immigration will refuse you entry because “exploring work or residence opportunities” is not a lawful purpose for having a Visitor’s Visa.

If, however, you say only that you are Visiting, get through the border unscathed, but then apply for a Work Visa a week later, you can expect trouble.  This is because Immigration New Zealand (INZ) will accuse you of having concealed information when you arrived (i.e., that your real reason for coming was to look for work).  It is irrelevant that you had no thought in your head of applying for work when you flew in.  Such an accusation can be hard to shake off and could prejudice your ability to get any form of visa for New Zealand in the future.

On the other hand, judiciously delaying a Work Visa application for several weeks or even months after arrival might be a way of reducing such suspicions.  Such a strategy is always a calculated risk.

INZ issued an Advisory to Staff in 2014 saying that if you have come on an LSD trip then it might be best to tick “Other” as well as “Visit” on the Arrival Card; and if you want to look for work then answer “Other” and/or “Business”.  This will alert border staff that they should ask you what that other purpose is.  Their own guidelines state that they will then weigh up:

  • Is there any risk the person will breach the conditions of their visa – for example, have any of their relatives done things they were not permitted to do on their visas;
  • How likely is it that they might overstay – for example, nothing to go back to at home;
  • Does the person have a particular skill in high demand in New Zealand.

There is no guarantee about how such an interview might play out.  From experience, and from reviewing a number of case files over the years of airport encounters, what is clear is that being evasive about one’s intentions or situation will either come out at the time, or may blow up in one’s face even years down the track when applying for Residence.  Be warned:  it’s all kept on your file.

Finally, if you’re not sure that you want to take the risk of being sent home after a day-long flight to these shores, and you fear that you might fail the balancing exercise listed above, you should consider filing a Visitor’s Visa application at home before you try to travel.  This enables you to set out your case in an environment and at a pace which is under your control – and not while you are tired and intimidated in an ugly interview room.

If having the chance to make landfall in New Zealand is a high priority for you, and you fear that your circumstances may put you at a disadvantage when applying, then get professional assistance – even for a Visitor’s Visa.  A declined application on your record makes it much more difficult for you to get a different result if you apply again later.  Do it well the first time.