On 19th March 2020, prime minister Jacinda Ardern announced border restrictions for all non-citizens or permanent residents in response to the outbreak of COVID-19 (COVID). New Zealand’s quick and apt response to implement strong measures against the spread of the pandemic led to immense success, with our nation becoming the first country in the world to effectively contain the spread of COVID.
To this date, border restrictions remain tightly maintained. Hopes for the borders to open began to grow with recent travel restriction exemptions that apply for travel within the quarantine-free travel zone or the ‘travel bubble’ consisting of Australia, the Cook Islands and Niue. Outside of these specified countries, all travelers must satisfy border entry requirements. For many potential immigrants, the requirement of managed isolation and quarantine for 14 days effectively prevent any chances of coming to New Zealand. For citizens, the cost of quarantine is $3,100 for the first person and an additional $950 for every adult or $475 for every child. For non-citizens or non-residents, however, the costs quickly balloon to $5,520 for the first person, an additional $2,990 for the second adult, and $1,610 for a child. This means that for a family of three consisting of two adults and one child who wishes to enter New Zealand on any temporary entry visa, the expected cost for two weeks of managed isolation will be more than $10,000, not including flights or further costs of settlement.  Potential migrants who often leave their home country to seek the prospect of a better life in a new country will be unable to afford such costs.
When the border will open to the rest of the world to allow immigrant entry to New Zealand is uncertain and will ultimately depend on when the pandemic is put away for good.
COVID has been a slippery slope for many countries. It appears as if it’s been contained and managed but the day after, the headlines of major media channels and websites are littered with breaking news of community outbreaks. Various health institutions and authorities around the world are struggling to meet the strenuous challenges of containing and eliminating COVID for various reasons. Some countries lack pharmaceutical goods and services (or general health care), while some other countries struggle to rally behind their designated authoritative health regulators and policy makers. On top of this, new variants of the COVID virus present significant challenges. Given that New Zealand has taken a very strong stance when it comes to COVID responses, we should expect sensitive reactions to any potential variants from the authorities. Overall, what is certain is that we are clearly still far away from an open border policy announcement.
The post COVID World
Will the NZ border open when COVID is finally over? Predicting political changes in the future is at best a guess – immigration policies included. But what we do know is that immigration policies in New Zealand often follow a cyclical pattern. When we pay close attention to the historical changes in immigration policies, we can observe a pattern of a period where immigration is encouraged, then followed by a period where immigration is tightly controlled and limited. Where are we right now? Most likely on the latter part of the cycle.
This isn’t just speculation. The Government recently announced a ‘reset’ of the immigration system. The Government’s overall goal with immigration is to reduce the entry of ‘low-skilled’ workers and instead focus on attracting ‘high-skilled’ workers. This policy change has been what the Government calls a “once-in-a generation reset”, so we should expect significant changes to immigration policies in the foreseeable future. The general direction the Government is taking with immigration can also be seen in the new border exemption where up to 220 wealthy individuals will be allowed to enter New Zealand. This exemption is only available for eligible individuals who will be selected on an invitational basis, and the criterion for eligibility heavily focuses on the individuals’ value as investors and job creators in New Zealand.
What does this mean for immigration as we head forward to a completely new post-COVID world? Skilled Migrant category visa applications will most likely have to meet a higher threshold, including higher requirements of labour market tests and other employer requirements. Most likely, other temporary entry class visas will be approved only if a similarly higher threshold can be met. In general, the absolute number of immigrants allowed to settle in New Zealand is expected to fall in the future.
But why? Hon Stuart Nash, the Minister of Economic and Regional Development pointed out that current immigration policies have led to mostly low skilled workers entering New Zealand. In 2019, half of all approved essential work visas were given to low-skilled workers. As a result, he continued, employers did not invest in capital for higher productivity or have failed to give New Zealanders priority for employment because they relied on low-skilled immigrants.
For these reasons, we expect the New Zealand Government to keep a tight grip on border control even after the COVID crisis is concluded. Most likely, it seems at this time that even if the borders open again, it would have become an exclusive gate that is too heavy to open for many people overseas who wish to seek life in New Zealand.
 For the most recent update on quarantine-free travel zones, visit: https://www.immigration.govt.nz/about-us/covid-19/border-closures-and-exceptions/you-are-in-a-quarantine-free-travel-zone
 For the full list of border entry requirements, visit: https://www.immigration.govt.nz/about-us/covid-19/border-closures-and-exceptions/entry-to-new-zealand/border-entry-requirements
 For reference and further details, visit: https://www.miq.govt.nz/being-in-managed-isolation/charges-for-managed-isolation/temporary-entry-class-visa-holders-charges/
 Temporary entry visa class includes: (i) Visitor visa (including partners of a New Zealand citizen or resident), (ii) Student visa holders, (iii) work visa holders, and (iv) limited visas.
 For the list of identified variants categorized in the order of monitoring interest set by the World Health Organization (WHO), visit: https://www.who.int/en/activities/tracking-SARS-CoV-2-variants/