The Government has announced a suite of major changes to New Zealand's immigration rules which ministers say will help New Zealand families reunite, without increasing the risk of Covid-19.

The requirement for partners and dependants of New Zealand citizens and residents to travel together to return home has been removed.

And the Government has announced it will introduce short-term and long-term criteria for Other Essential Workers requests.

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This means exemptions will be granted for two syndicate teams who will challenge Emirates Team New Zealand for the 36th America's Cup.

The US Challenger, team American Magic, would bring 102 workers and 104 family members to New Zealand, Economic Development Minister Phil Twyford said.

He said the INEOS Team UK – the other team granted an exemption – would bring in 86 workers, 128 family members and one nanny.

Economic Development Minister Phil Twyford announced new travel measures. Photo / Mark Tantrum
Economic Development Minister Phil Twyford announced new travel measures. Photo / Mark Tantrum

The syndicates are expected to be in New Zealand for up to 10 months.

"The Government and Auckland Council have made significant commitments and investments in building infrastructure for the event," he said.

"The America's Cup would not be able to go ahead unless these international syndicate teams are allowed entry into New Zealand."

Twyford said approving the border exemptions allowed the teams to start setting up their bases and carry on key design and boat testing that could be progressed in New Zealand.

The Government has separated the criteria for an essential worker into two time frames: short term (less than six months) and long term (more than six months).

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A short-term worker must have "unique and technical or specialist skills that are not obtainable in New Zealand", or they must be working on a major project, such as infrastructure, which would be severely impacted by their absence.

Long-term workers must meet one of the two short-term worker criteria. They must also be earning twice the median salary, or have a role that is essential for a government-backed science programme, or a role that is essential for a government-approved event, such as the America's Cup.

The new essential worker rules are targeted at bringing "high-value workers" who would contribute to "projects of national or regional significance" into the country.

Twyford said the threshold remains "very high".

The high bar would help stop the spread of Covid-19 and protect the health of people already in New Zealand, Twyford said.

"Businesses should ensure no alternative options are available before applying."

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The diplomatic exception, which allows re-entry to those who normally live here, was also being expanded to include diplomats taking up new posts in New Zealand, Twyford said.

Maritime vessels "where there is a compelling need" will be allowed entry.

Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway said everyone coming in would still need to do 14 days of managed isolation or quarantine.

He said the Government was working within its current capacity of 3200 for the facilities run by the Ministry of Health.

Twyford said the maritime exception would allow ship entry to those arriving from sea, where there was a "compelling need" for the ship to travel to New Zealand.

The border restrictions would not apply to replacement cargo ship crew arriving in New Zealand by air and transferring straight to a cargo ship to leave New Zealand.

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Officials are working to implement the changes as quickly as possible. The Government expects the changes to partners, other essential workers and diplomats will be in effect by the end of next week, and the maritime changes in place later in June.

Trying to get in

Immigration NZ estimates that, as of May 27, there were 10,062 people with a current work visa who may be "ordinarily resident in New Zealand", but who were stuck outside New Zealand.

They included: 2950 people with an "essential skills" visa, 2772 people with a post-study work visa, 298 people with partnership visas, 124 people who were partners of temporary visa holders, 2436 people with a variety of other work visas, 1401 people who were partners of a worker, 33 people with an investment visa, and 48 people with visas for humanitarian work.

As of June 10, there had been 15,331 requests for a border exception; 2914 were invited to apply for a visa, and 2456 visa applications were approved.

Of those, 2372 people made border exemption requests as essential workers, and 237 individuals were invited to apply for a visa (about 10 per cent of all approvals).

Up until May 28, 10,224 people have lodged an Expression of Interest to come to New Zealand and were declined; 4918 people for family reasons, 2457 people for humanitarian reasons, 486 people saying they were essential health workers, 1802 people saying they were essential non-health workers, 496 Australians and 65 Tongan or Samoans.

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In that same period, 2760 people were invited to apply for a visa; 1630 for family reasons, 276 for humanitarian reasons, 513 health workers, 151 essential non-health workers, 180 Australians and 10 Tongan or Samoans.

Essential worker criteria

An "Other Essential Worker" is someone who an employer can demonstrate meets the following criteria:

For a short-term role (less than six months):

• The worker must have unique experience and technical or specialist skills that are not obtainable in New Zealand, or

• The work must be significant in terms of a major infrastructure project, or event of national or regional importance, or government approved programme, or in support of a government-to-government agreement, or have significant benefit to the national or regional economy, AND

• The role must be time critical (eg if the person does not come to New Zealand, the project, work or event will cease or be severely compromised, or significant costs will be incurred).

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For a longer-term role (more than six months), the worker must:

• Meet one of the short-term criteria AND

• Earn twice the median salary (as an indicator of high skills), or

• Have a role that is essential for the completion or continuation of science programmes under a government-funded or partially government-funded contract, including research and development exchanges and partnerships.

• Have a role that is essential for the delivery or execution of a government-approved event, or programme that is of major significance to New Zealand.