Ordinary New Zealanders are being asked to play a part in helping smooth the way for a new measure aimed at keeping out overseas visitors who pose a risk to our security.
From October 1 the 1.5 million people who visit from 60 "visa waiver" countries every year will be required to obtain a New Zealand electronic travel authority - an NZeTA - before being allowed to board a plane or cruise ship bound for New Zealand.
The move is designed to prevent people travelling here who are considered a risk to New Zealand's safety by identifying them well before check-in.
Authorities are looking to identify anyone previously sentenced to a term of imprisonment of 12 months or longer, those considered a threat to national security or who are members of a terrorist group. Travellers coming by air or cruise ship will be required to answer questions about any criminal convictions and the purpose of their trip.
Immigration New Zealand (INZ), which has been working closely with the travel industry to alert international visitors to the change, is also calling on those Kiwis expecting overseas visitors to help spread the word about the new rules.
INZ's Director of Policy Integration Nick Aldous says it is important those planning to come to New Zealand, particularly over the coming summer season, are aware of the need to request an NZeTA.
"This is a key travel time for many tourists, especially those coming to visit friends and relatives over Christmas," he says. "Those affected will be denied boarding if they do not hold an NZeTA so, if you've got people coming, it's important to spread the word about these new rules to ensure they get on board and their travel isn't disrupted."
Visa waiver countries, those whose citizens do not need a visa to come to New Zealand, include the UK, the United States, Canada, Hong Kong, Malaysia and most European countries.
Anyone denied an NZeTA can apply for a visitor visa, a process which will allow a more in-depth look at individual circumstances.
Currently visitors flying to New Zealand only receive light-touch screening at check-in, but the NZeTA will give authorities early warning of individuals who potentially pose a risk Aldous says.
"In the past we have often not been aware of this until they arrive or after a plane is in the air. Now we can manage the situation earlier and avoid making decisions (on these people) on the fly."
Aldous believes the measure will reduce the number of those who are denied entry on arrival (last year 1173 were turned away at the border) because authorities will be alerted to suspect travellers earlier.
The new requirement excludes New Zealand and Australian citizens and those who already hold a valid visa for New Zealand. An NZeTA, once approved, will be valid for two years and visitors will be able to come and go as often as they wish within that period. However once expired, travellers will need to reapply.
Aldous says the introduction of the NZeTA not only aims to keep New Zealand safe and strengthen its borders, it also brings the country in line with "best practice" systems introduced in other countries. Among those with similar rules are the US (ESTA), Canada (eTA) and Australia (ETA), while the European Commission is introducing its own in 2021 (ETIAS).
While it is a traveller's responsibility to check their travel and entry requirements, Aldous says "we appreciate it's a significant change for visitors and based on the experience of other countries there will be a transition period before it becomes a natural process."
An NZeTA can only be requested electronically either by downloading a free NZeTA app or by completing an online form (at immigration.govt.nz/nzeta). Requests will cost $NZ9 (via the app) or $NZ12 (through the website).
Aldous says it could take up to 72 hours to process and for this reason he advises people to request their NZeTA well in advance of travel. No hard copies are needed, however if people forget to make a request or they are unaware of the need to apply, they can still go online at the airport and, in most cases, should receive approval in time.
Aldous says on average 22 per cent of travellers from visa waiver countries come to New Zealand to visit friends and relatives. The percentage is even higher for those from the UK (46 per cent), Canada (29 per cent) and Hong Kong (25 per cent).
"Given this, it is important for Kiwis to be informed and aware of the changes," he says.
At the same time Aldous says the ministry has been talking with airlines, cruise lines and tourism industry bodies to ensure the travel sector has the support and knowledge required to implement the NZeTA in a way that minimises the impact on travellers.
For more information on the NZeTA, visit immigration.govt.nz/nzeta