You are from a country which is “visa-free” and you decided to pop in to New Zealand to search out job opportunities.  Easy, right?  Think again.We have heard from our colleagues that an increasing number of people are being stopped at the airport, interviewed and kept in the border area, and even put back on a flight home, if Immigration suspects that they might be more than just tourists.  First of all, it’s not going to be a fun experience.  More importantly, though, an Alert is then placed against your personal record which could make it impossible for you to come back without applying for a visa first.  In some cases you might not be allowed back in at all.

One reason why Immigration could play hard ball with you is if you declare on your Arrival Card that you are a Visitor, they could see this as a false declaration if you are actually coming to hunt for jobs.  This then becomes a false declaration, which is likely to be a major character issue in future.  One informal suggestion we have had is to tick the “Other” box on the Arrival Card and explain what you intend to do to a border officer.  Although this reduces the risk of being accused of having given false information, there’s no guarantee that you will get in.

Ultimately, the safest route to take in such a situation is to apply for a visa (for instance, if you want to go to a prearranged job interview).  If you can show that you have a life to go back to in your home country – a job, assets and family – and you plan to visit for a limited time, then you may be fine.  Still, some of the visa branches are notorious for declining applications on relatively thin grounds.

If you believe that you have a chance to advance your career in New Zealand but you don’t want to mess up your good immigration record by getting a visa declined, get professional assistance.  Remember that many First World countries including New Zealand require you to tell them if you’ve ever been refused a visa – in any country – so that a NZ visa decline could harm your chances of getting in anywhere else as well.

If you know someone who has been turned around at a New Zealand destination and put back on the plane, get them to talk to us.  We can get their file and see what Alerts have been placed against their name, in order to work out a way to clear their way to return.

Personally, I think Immigration’s fixation on the “lawful purpose” of visitors is narrow-minded and harmful to our reputation.  I hosted a Law Society dinner for David Cunliffe, former Minister of Immigration, back in 2009, where he quite rightly observed that the world’s population is expecting to live a much more flexible life.  People don’t necessarily want to settle in one new country forever.  Instead, a lot of younger travellers only expect to stay in a country a few years before moving on to a new opportunity.  They want to be able to shop around.

Now, I accept that Immigration has a mandate to protect the job market for New Zealanders.  That, however, can be addressed when the visitor applies for a Work Visa when they have a job offer.  Why stop them from even looking for the chance to work?  Again, NZ is entitled to reduce the risk of people overstaying.  If that is such an issue, though, why have the visa-free policy in the first place?  I have yet to hear a sensible argument for the attitude which is currently turning people away from our borders in this sort of situation.

To be fair, Immigration staff have to apply the policy set by Cabinet.  Visitor’s Visa instructions indicate that “intending to undertake employment” is not a lawful purpose.  But if someone is only looking for work, doesn’t even have an offer of a job, and hasn’t even applied for a Work Visa, how can they be intending to work?  They may be intending to look for work, but that’s another step removed from the thing itself.

As part of the Policy Committee of NZAMI, I am looking at putting this mess to Immigration management to see if some common sense can return to this topic.  I hope to keep you posted.