Applying for a new zealand border exemption

New Zealand has closed its borders to all but citizens and permanent residents due to the Coronavirus pandemic. This is to prevent the spread of community transmission and to ensure New Zealanders are safe from the virus. It’s a great tact for those already in the country but for those of us who are trying to get in with our partners or have partners who are stranded overseas, it is a colossal nightmare.

I remember when the announcement was first made. That’s fine, I thought, we would definitely get an exemption to enter as he is my partner. When the first rejection came through, my heart sank. All I could think of was “holy heck, there goes our plans. guess we’re gonna have to stay apart”. There were many sleepless nights where I kept asking myself why were we rejected? Was it because Tom’s not on a partnership visa of some sort? What are the best options for us and when could we actually see each other again? Probably not until the following year.

While the process may seem relatively straightforward, it is also stressful especially since you’re not given a reason as to why your application to be considered has been rejected. But don’t lose hope.

We’ve been asked by a few people to share our story so I thought I’d write this post in the hopes that it’d be helpful to those of you who are going through a similar situation.

Applying for an exemption: What is it?

When applying for an exemption, you need to provide a critical reason for travel. While the Immigration website guidelines states that partners and children can enter NZ, it’s still advisable to apply for an exemption just to ensure that you don’t get stopped from boarding your plane. I’ve heard horror stories of people being denied boarding simply for not having an exemption.

As I mentioned, Tom and I had our first request rejected. The stress was immense and my father kindly tried to pull some strings by contacting the local MP. Unfortunately, they were unable to help. After some time, I decided I was going to keep trying until they granted us the exemption or gave us a reason as to why they were rejecting our application.

Can I just say, at the time when we were applying which was between March and May, there was like a 600-word limit. How can you plead your case with only 600 words? Since then, they’ve extended the word limit to 3000 which is much more reasonable. I also can’t tell you whether or not there is a real human behind the computer. I was part of a Facebook page for people separated from their families and partners and people were saying they were getting rejected within 20 minutes. We received a rejection after an hour or two once which made me think there was a robot on the other end and we needed to use key words to beat it but then someone posted that they received a response saying “As per your last application…”. That just made me think there very well could be a human on the other end.

Anyways, we applied about seven times before Tom finally received an invitation to apply for an exemption. When I woke up and Tom told me that he got accepted, I was in tears. We were so excited and felt one step closer to getting home.

What’s your reason?

This is the question we get asked the most. Understandably though, because it’s not quite clear what a critical reason is. We explained that we had originally planned to move to NZ in April and then the borders closed. We mentioned we left our jobs, gave notice at our flat, sold everything and are now living off savings and need to get back to NZ where we can live with my family until we find our feet again. It was the same reason for every form but in the last one with the extra characters, I added that we would be travelling together and included my passport details and also explained we’d been together for nearly two years and had evidence to prove our relationship. I think adding this last bit really helped our application.

I understand that since then, the form now requires you to add your partner’s details which is great. Partners also don’t need to travel together so that’s another bonus but at the time when we were applying, we needed to travel together so we highlighted that bit of info.

What’s the process?

Once you get invited to apply for an exemption, if you already have a visa, they’ll add a variation which outlines that you have a right to enter NZ at this time. If you don’t have a visa, you’ll be invited to apply for a visitors visa.

Tom was invited to apply for a visitor’s visa even though he already had a working holiday visa. At the time, we didn’t really question it; we just wanted to get to NZ. We had to provide the following:

  • Completed INZ application form
  • Copy of passport
  • Evidence that supports critical purpose for travelling
  • Evidence that you’re a bona fide visitor OR
  • Evidence you meet funds/sponsorship requirements
  • Evidence you meet onward travel requirements for visitors
  • Evidence of relationship

It took us about a week to compile all our evidence. We basically did a mini partnership visa application form (I kept making jokes about how they should’ve just granted us a partnership visa). We sent them photos of us together, receipts of our travels including AirBnB bookings and boarding passes, tenancy agreement of a flat we were moving into in Auckland before the borders closed, joint account statement, Tom’s bank statement, testimonials from family and friends, call and message logs, flight tickets for our original planned trip in April and a copy of Tom’s working holiday visa.

Once you send off the evidence, INZ comes back with a decision. In our case, Tom was granted a variation to his existing visa which allows him to come into NZ and work.

How long did it take?

It took them about a day each time to reject us although before we got approved, we didn’t get a response for about three days. I got impatient and sent another request and the following day, we received an invitation.

It took them two days to come back with a decision on the exemption. I have read that it can take longer if they require more information.

What happens after you’re granted an exemption?

When you’re invited to apply, you get one month to do so. Once you’re granted an exemption, you have three months to enter NZ.

Any other advice?

Don’t lose hope. I know it’s easier said than done but we were in that boat and were so ready to give up but the stubborn in me just wanted to keep going and to keep fighting the system. I was determined not to give up and I guess it paid off.

If you’ve been invited to apply for an exemption, make sure to provide as much evidence as possible. This ensures that they can come back to you sooner with a decision. I also think it gives them no excuse to reject your application.

So that’s it guys. Hopefully you’ve found this useful. If you have any questions, please feel free to ask! I’ll try my best to help out.

Good luck!

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