Thanks to my parents’ move to Canada (in 1971, as refugees from Vietnam, via France), my interactions with immigration authorities have been minimal throughout my life. I’ve had J-1 nonimmigrant status in the US for grad school and a sabbatical, and a Swiss work visa (also sabbatical), as well as visitor visas that I had to apply for in advance for Vietnam, India, and China. All the other 32 countries I’ve visited were visa-on-arrival or no visa needed (e.g. technically Canadians usually don’t have physical visas for the US, with some specific exemptions), though having to fill out an online form and pay money is becoming more common.
So, in terms of immigration bureaucracies I’ve interacted with most, New Zealand is by far #1. Here’s how it went. I am grateful that I generally don’t have to deal with immigration bureaucracies, something which is not true for many people around the world.
|me||24Oct19||8Nov19||work, specific purpose||5 months|
|MP||15Mar20||28Sep20||visitor||(further visitor visa)|
|me||3Apr20||work visa autoextended to 25 Sep 2020|
|me||18Aug20||15Sep20||work, specific purpose||through 1 Jun 2021|
|MP||29Sep20||19Oct20||work, partner of worker||3 days after sending escalation request|
|me||15Apr21||28May21||work, specific purpose||through Feb 2022|
|MP||26May21||21Jun21||work, partner of worker|
|MP||24Jun21||26Jun21||work, Essential Skills||3 years|
|me||30Aug21||11Oct21||work, partner of worker|
|MP||Sep21||n/a||skilled migrant||expression of interest|
|2Mar22||22Apr22||resident, 2021||MP principal applicant; additional docs requested 29 Mar|
Round 0: Initial Plan (Jan-Apr 2020)
- me: Specific Purpose Work Visa
- MP: NZeTA
We thought we would spend 4 months in New Zealand and 2 months in Greece. That was working great until this pandemic thing started. In terms of visas, I wouldn’t have needed one for a 3 month stay, but was supposed to get one for more than 3 months per year of academic visit, so I got a specific purpose work visa to visit VUW.
The visa was granted in two weeks and there were also a bunch of New Zealand onboarding emails: one before arriving and 5 after. (“Get ready for your move to New Zealand.” “What you can and can’t bring with you.” “New Zealand, especially the Auckland region, is currently experiencing a measles outbreak.”)
For MP, the plan was to exit and re-enter the country; visitor status is allowed for 6 months of a 12 month period, but the NZeTA allows at most 3 months per entry.
Round 1: March 13, 2020
- me: autoextended work visa
- MP: further visitor visa
There’s this COVID thing. Huh. Let’s not go anywhere for a while. Definitely not the Melbourne trip that we had planned for late March, anyway; we might get stuck in Australia. Looked like we wouldn’t be able to re-enter the country any time soon (as it turns out, not until April 13, 2022).
The helpful Immigration New Zealand helpline told us that MP could get a further visitor visa which would lift the 3 month restriction, so she applied for that. And New Zealand announced that many visas, including mine, would be automatically extended to September 25.
Immigration New Zealand also automatically grants an interim visa if a visa expires while someone is in the country and a new temporary visa has been applied for. The interim visa expires when leaving the country. The thing is, you can’t apply for another visa until your existing application has been decided. (I suppose that normally you could leave, cancelling your interim visa, and re-apply from abroad, but those were unique times.)
Round 2: Beyond September (Sep 2020-Jun 2021)
- me: specific purpose work visa #2
- MP: partner of worker work visa
In New Zealand, for most of the time after the first lockdown, everything was open except the border (except for Auckland for 3 months in late 2021). It was hard to predict the future, but vaccines were not available in September 2020. We always could have gone back to Canada, but there was definitely a full-on pandemic. Not great. Since my visa was going to expire in just over a month, I applied for another specific purpose work visa through June 2021.
MP was stuck on an interim visa until the visitor visa was granted; on the other hand, that visa would be valid as long as the visitor visa application was still in processing. Meanwhile, she got a job offer with a local nonprofit. So, once the visitor visa was granted (6 months after applying!), she went and applied for the Partner of a Worker Work Visa, which has open work permission. That one was also in limbo for a while, but we found the escalation procedure and sent an escalation request. Somehow, the work visa was magically granted 3 days later. So, we were both good through June 2021.
Round 3: Same thing again (Jun 2021-Apr 2022)
- me: specific purpose work visa #3
- MP: matching partner visa
Leading up to June 2021, I applied for another specific purpose work visa, this time through February 2022. Time keeps on elapsing despite there being a pandemic. This one took the longest to process for me, at 6 weeks. MP also applied for a matching partner of worker work visa.
Round 4: Essential Skills (Jun 2021-Jun 2024)
- MP: Essential Skills work visa
- me: partner of worker work visa
Although technically the partner visa is valid for as long as the principal visa, and my visa was good through February 2022, it’s not the intent that I move back to Canada and have MP stay. So MP applied for her own Essential Skills work visa. This (now-defunct) visa requires 30 hours a week, and for the longest validity period (3 years), requires salary at least equal to the NZ average. (So you make people with less money apply more often. Sounds fair). It also required that the position be advertised sufficiently widely and that no New Zealanders be qualified for the position. But, due to COVID, there was an exemption to the advertising requirement for people staying in jobs they had already.
According to my records, that visa was granted in 2 days. Not sure if that’s accurate.
Although my visa remained valid through February 2022, I decided it would be best to apply for a partner visa myself, which would then be valid for 3 years as well. Turns out that this decision enabled my trip to NZ as of April 13, so that was good.
Round 5: Residence (Apr 2022-)
- MP: Expression of Interest for Skilled Migrant Category residence visa
The thing about New Zealand permanent residency is that it doesn’t expire (barring any changes to the law, of course; but that seems unlikely right now). This is different from Canadian and US PR. To get permanent residency, you first need to get residency, and then demonstrate a commitment to New Zealand, usually by physical presence over 2 years as a resident.
The other thing is that it’s quite hard to get residency when old. This is true in many countries, including Canada. Past 55? Good luck with that. Maybe if you can bring millions of dollars.
Not being 55 yet, we thought we would give it a go. There had been a backlog for the normal Skilled Migrant Category (SMC) applications even before COVID, and that category is still not operating in September 2022, but the first step is to send an Expression of Interest (EOI).
(Resident visa traffic jam: The more right-wing National party tends to accept more immigrants than the more protectionist Labour party; when Labour won in 2017, the Immigration New Zealand budget was frozen, and the applications were coming in faster than they were being processed.)
Round 5a: The Great Resident Visa Grant of 2021
- 2021 resident visa
After a false start with a speech about an immigration reset, the NZ Minister of Immigration eventually announced a special one-off resident visa for those on appropriate work visas in New Zealand on September 29, 2021. For us, applications would open on March 1, 2022.
We did a couple of things that helped or seemed to have helped. 1) Specific purpose work visa was ineligible, but Essential Skills was eligible. 2) Our application was processed quite early; I think it’s because we had an SMC EOI in.
Basically, anyone who was in the country who was skilled, settled, or scarce, i.e. being paid enough, or in the country long enough, or with a sufficiently in-demand job, could get this easy-to-process resident visa.
So, on April 19, we got approval in principle for residency, subject to paying the fee. We did that ASAP and on April 22, while we were on a walk in Northland, MP got the email saying that we were granted NZ residency. In two years we can apply for PR.
On processing times
Immigration New Zealand seems to be focussed on bringing workers in. The work visa processing times are super fast. Hard to beat 2 weeks. Through COVID things got slower, so we saw 6 weeks for the third specific purpose work visa.
A policy question that immigration systems need to answer, and that the US and Canada differ on, is about family reunification versus meeting business needs. Seems like our partner visas were slightly slower than work visas.
The 6-month wait for a visitor visa was quite out of line, but there was lots of excitement going on then, including shutting down visitor visa processing based in China.
Immigration New Zealand posts information about typical processing times on its web page.
I mentioned the Skilled Migrant Category traffic jam above. It should be mostly cleared as a result of the 2021 Resident Visa. Also, INZ is generally pretty slow about resident visas (and partner visas), but in this case it seemed to be that the Minister of Immigration was really like “You have to do this visa quickly. I’ll be looking over your shoulder constantly.” It’s still going to take longer than forecast to grant all of those visas (as I write this in September 2022, they are halfway through), but it’s still faster than resident visas in the recent past. They used to be faster, I’m told.
For me, it was pretty straightforward to get the visas I needed. We were also in the right place at the right time to get the easy path to residency. In part that’s because I am really good at navigating bureaucratic systems, predicting the way the regulations are going to go, and satisfying the requirements that are well documented in the Immigration New Zealand Operational Manual. It helps that I’m good at reading English; all this wouldn’t be nearly as easy without that skill.
Each work visa cost about $500. Not a problem for us, but I can see it being a problem for many people. The resident visa cost $2000 for both of us. A bargain compared to work visas. I don’t really want to compute exactly how much we spent on those.
As a result of this process, I’m also marginally more aware of the Quebec, Canadian, and American immigration systems (“what is it like elsewhere, for instance in the place that is my birthright?”) That had never really occurred to me to find out about before. I just knew that I got a lot of requests for US Green Card letters from alumni.
I guess, as with everything, the more social and actual capital you bring to the process, the easier it is for you. If you have actual capital and not so much social capital, you can pay for immigration advisors. We had enough of both that we didn’t have to spend as much actual capital.