Understanding New Zealand's Immigration Framework

How does immigration in New Zealand work? What guides the decisions that are made? And how are decisions made?

We dive into all of these questions, and more, in this post about New Zealand’s immigration framework and regulations. So, if you want to take a peek behind the curtain of immigration in New Zealand, read on.

The New Zealand Immigration Framework

New Zealand's immigration framework comprises the laws and regulations that govern the entry, stay, and departure of migrants into the country.

Immigration laws are regularly reviewed and updated to ensure that they align with the country's changing economic and social needs. However, they must remain in line with the Immigration Act 2009, a crucial piece of legislation that informs and shapes New Zealand's immigration practices. It ensures that immigration decisions are made in a fair and transparent manner, and that the country's immigration system operates in the best interests of both New Zealand and those seeking to enter and reside in the country.

The Immigration Act 2009

The Immigration Act 2009 is the key piece of legislation that informs New Zealand's immigration practices. The act sets out the legal framework for immigration in New Zealand - including the rules for entry, stay, and deportation of non-citizens.

The focus of the Act is to support the Economic and Social objectives of the NZ government - to ensure that the economy is well supported by migrants in skilled employment and enabling NZ businesses to prosper, and that we have a diverse and vibrant community of migrants from all over the world.

In addition, the Immigration Act 2009 sets out the responsibilities and powers of immigration officers, including the authority to detain individuals suspected of breaching immigration laws. The act also provides for the establishment of the Immigration and Protection Tribunal, which is responsible for hearing appeals against immigration decisions and determining whether an individual should be deported.

The Act has been amended over time - which allows the government to implement changes on an ad hoc basis rather than having to write an entirely new Act. The Immigration Amendment Act (No. 2) 2015 does just this, amending clauses to better protect migrant workers from exploitation, strengthen the immigration compliance regime, reflect changes in technology and clarify provisions in the original legislation.

During a migrant’s visa journey, The Immigration Act 2009 won’t feature much for most migrants who visit, study, work or who are approved residence visas. However, it does come into play where migrants break the law, overstay, or otherwise breach their visa as there are key provisions which cover such matters. The Act is always there in the background to guide and inform migrants, the government, immigration professionals, and visa officers when things get tricky.

The Operational Manual

All immigration instructions are found in the Operational Manual.  It is the ‘Bible’ which INZ Visa Officers are required to be familiar with and process visa applications in accordance with. It provides guidance on how immigration policies and procedures are implemented by Immigration NZ. As you might imagine, it contains a lot of technical and legal jargon, but we’ll do our best to make it digestible.

It outlines all the different types of visas that are available, the criteria that must be met to be eligible for each type of visa, and the process for applying for a visa. The manual also explains the requirements that applicants must meet, such as having a valid passport, being in good health, and having no criminal convictions (criteria you will see almost everywhere on the INZ website).

It’s worth noting that some of the points above can vary; timeframes can depend on visa demand and INZ’s processing capabilities; and visa types change according to shifting national needs. For example, the Recovery visa was recently and quickly introduced to assist in the clean-up efforts of places affected by recent natural disasters in the North Island.

Additionally, the instructions outline the obligations that visa holders have, such as maintaining valid immigration status, complying with the conditions of their visa, and not engaging in any illegal activities. It also explains the consequences of breaching visa conditions, such as deportation.

To make it simple: there are two main visa policy pathways for New Zealand:

  1. Temporary Entry Class Visas; and
  2. Residence Class Visas.
  • Temporary Entry Class Visas include Student, Visitor, and Work Visas. Such visas allow migrants to remain in NZ for a certain amount of time to fulfil a particular purpose (i.e. to Visit/Study/Work).
  • Residence Class Visas include Family Categories (such as Partnership, and Dependent Child); Skilled Migrant Category including the Green List pathways; Business pathways (Investor); and Refugee applications for example. Residence pathways allow migrants to remain in NZ permanently once the application is approved.

The Operational Manual is publicly available for anyone to read - there are no secrets! What does get tricky though is when INZ Visa Officers don’t apply the correct instructions to a visa application; or misinterpret the instructions; or fail to follow the relevant instructions at all! INZ Visa Officers must process a visa application in accordance with the instructions. When things go wrong, it is important to seek professional advice. Even better, seek guidance from a professional before you start your visa application so we can point you in the right direction and avoid the pitfalls.

All in all, the Operational Manual is not a read for the faint of heart, but it contains all information and instructions about immigration in New Zealand that one could possibly know.

Key Changes to New Zealand’s Immigration Laws in 2022

With the reopening of the NZ border following Covid restrictions, New Zealand immigration laws saw much change in 2022, with the government implementing several visa law changes, and updated temporary and residence visa policies. Over the past year there has been a multitude of changes to visa policies, almost every week. It is a lot for migrants and for immigration professionals to keep up with, and it’s due to the enormous amount of change brought about by the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic affecting how the NZ government handles border control, and the type of NZ the government wants to build post-pandemic.

One of the most significant changes was the introduction of the new Accredited Employer Work Visa (AEWV), which replaced six existing employer-assisted work visas. The new visa aims to simplify the visa application process for both employers and employees and improve working conditions for temporary visa holders.

The Benefits of Seeking Professional Advice on Applying for a Visa in NZ

Applying for a visa in New Zealand can be a complex and challenging process, particularly for those who are unfamiliar with the country's immigration laws and regulations. Seeking professional advice from migration advice services, experienced lawyers, or a Licensed Immigration Adviser (LIA) can provide a range of benefits to individuals who are looking to enter or stay in New Zealand.

Professional advisors provide expert guidance on the different visa options available and help individuals to navigate the application process. They also help ensure that visa applications are complete and accurate, reducing the risk of delays or rejections. In addition, an LIA provides guidance on how to prepare for visa interviews as well as general support throughout the entire application process.

Seeking professional advice can help to ensure that the process is as smooth and stress-free as possible, while also increasing the chances of a successful outcome.

At VisaMaxNZ, we find that a big part of our job is ensuring that INZ Visa Officers are doing their jobs in accordance with the Immigration Act 2009 and the Operational Manual so that the right decisions are being made for our customers.


New Zealand’s immigration framework is designed to balance national interests with people’s desire to move here under a range of circumstances.

While the policies around visas change depending on the needs of the country, they are created under the same framework to be as equitable as possible for both NZ citizens and those wanting to move here.

Visa applications can be complicated, but there is help available. LIA’s can make the entire migration process manageable. While it’s not mandatory, they can give you peace of mind that your case is being taken care of and that you have the best chance to get the best visa for your situation.

If you’re considering a move to New Zealand and need an extra hand, or you’re an employer needing assistance with the visas for your staff, the VisaMaxNZ team can help. With an expert and friendly team, you’ll be taken care of.

Contact VisaMax NZ today