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01 June 2015

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New Zealand has a reasonably open door immigration policy, particularly for skilled migrants and for entrepreneurs with the resources and capital to contribute to the economy by setting up a business in New Zealand.

If you are not a New Zealand or an Australian national, you will need a visa to work in New Zealand unless you are on a short visa for business meetings only.

Visa types include:
  • Work Visa (temporary)
  • Work to Residence Visa
  • Study to Work Visa
  • Visitor Visa (Business or Tourist)
  • Highly Skilled Visa (Silver Fern)
  • Entrepreneur Work Visa (Business)
  • Residence Visa
  • Working Holiday Visa
  • Student Visa

Applicants for any visa must:

  • be of good character and have an acceptable standard of health, and
  • hold a valid passport which expires later than three months after the proposed date of departure.

Work Visa

Work Visas are time-limited and can be issued for a period of up to five years. To qualify foreign nationals must have a job offer:

  • for an occupation on the skills shortage list, or
  • from a New Zealand employer who:
    • is accredited or has approval to recruit foreign workers, or
    • can prove there are no suitable New Zealand applicants.

An applicant may also be eligible when coming here for a specific purpose which will be of benefit to New Zealand.  This option also covers specialist skills such as sports people, inter-company transfers and extended business visits beyond a short period.

A Work Visa will usually be specific to one employer, one position and one region.

Employees of a business which is relocating to New Zealand can also apply for a Work Visa and, later, for residence under the Employee of a Relocating Company Category, if they do not meet any other criteria for residence.

Partners of New Zealand residents or citizens can be granted Open Work Visas to allow them to remain with their partner while accumulating time to the 12 months required before a residence application can be made.  Dependent children can obtain Student Visas or Visitor Visas.

Work Visa holders, who hold at least a six month visa, may bring their partners and dependent children.  Partners may be granted an Open Work Visa and children of primary or secondary school age, a Student Visa to study at New Zealand rates, rather than international ones.

More information about these options is available at:


Highly Skilled Visa

The ‘Silver Fern’ visa is designed to attract highly-skilled long term immigrants aged 20 to 35. It is issued initially for nine months, extendable to two years after skilled work has been obtained. Applicants may then apply for residence. This option is limited to 300 applicants a year and the selection takes place only once a year.

Entrepreneur Work Visa (Business)

Those wishing to establish their own business, or buy part of an existing business, can apply for an Entrepreneur Work Visa (Business).  Applicants must invest capital of at least NZ$100,000 in their business (although Immigration New Zealand can waive this requirement for proposals involving a high level of innovation or which are export-oriented and have high short-term growth prospects).  They must also have access to maintenance funds of at least $100,000 (or more if they have children).  The applicant must work full-time in the business in New Zealand for 24 months before they can apply for residence.

In addition to satisfying English language, health and character requirements, applicants must get at least 120 points in a points system based on:

  • business experience
  • job creation and/or export potential
  • capital investment, and
  • age (with maximum weighting for ages 25 to 49) with
  • potential bonus points for locating outside Auckland or for having obtained formal endorsement from New Zealand Trade and Enterprise, the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment or from a local council or chamber of commerce.

The Temporary Retirement Category

This is a two-year multiple entry Visitor’s Visa available to applicants who: are aged 66 and over, invest NZ$750,000 in New Zealand for two years into an acceptable investment, demonstrate ownership of NZ$500,000 of maintenance funds and an annual income of NZ$60,000 at the time of application, meet standard health and character requirements and hold and maintain comprehensive travel and/or health insurance for the duration of their stay.

They may include their partner in their application but not any dependent children.

Working Holiday Visa

New Zealand has reciprocal arrangements with many countries, which allow young people, usually between the ages of 20 and 30 or 35, to come and holiday and work in New Zealand for between 12 and 23 months, depending on the country.  Such applicants are not normally allowed to undertake full-time work and there is an expectation that the primary purpose of their visit is to holiday rather than to work.

New Zealand residence

The main paths to New Zealand residence are through the following categories:

  • Skilled Migrant
  • Work to Residence
  • Investor
  • Entrepreneur, and
  • Family.

Skilled Migrant Category

The Skilled Migrant Category operates on a points system with points awarded for qualifications, work experience, age, whether the person has a job offer and other settlement factors.  In addition, applicants must satisfy health, character and English language proficiency standards.  The process commences with an Expression of Interest, which may lead to an invitation to apply for residence.  At the residence stage, you must prove all the points made in your Experssion of Interest. 

More information is available at: www.immigration.govt.nz/migrant/stream/work/skilledmigrant

Work to Residence

An applicant who is either working for an accredited employer in New Zealand or meets all the requirements of the Long Term Skill Shortage List and is employed in such a role in New Zealand, can apply for residence once they have completed 24 months of employment.  This option also covers applicants such as high ranking sports players or coaches who play or coach a nationally reputed team or person.

Investor Category

The options are:

  • Investor One Category: requires an investment of NZ$10 million for three years.  No age restriction or English language requirement.  Must stay in the country for at least 44 days in each of the last two years of the three-year period, and
  • Investor Two Category: requires an investment of NZ$1.5 million for four years with settlement funds of NZ$1 million (transfer not required).  The applicant must be under 65, have at least three years’ business experience and have some English language skills.  In each of the last three years over a four year period, must stay in the country at least 146 days.

More information is available at: www.immigration.govt.nz/migrant/stream/invest/

Entrepreneur Category

Applicants who have run a successful business in New Zealand for two years can apply for residence, providing the business has met the original business plan targets.

A special fast track provision is available after six months where the applicant has invested at least NZ$500,000 in the business and has created at least three full-time jobs for New Zealanders.

Family Category

Applicants may be able to apply for residence depending on their family connections in New Zealand.  The three options are:

  • Partner Category – living for 12 months with a New Zealand resident or citizen creates an opportunity to apply for residence on partnership grounds
  • Parent Category – the parents of a New Zealand citizen or resident may be eligible to apply for residence if they have a child or children who are eligible sponsors and either the sponsor or the parent has sufficient income and assets.  There are two tiers to this option and thus far only the higher tier applicants have been considered.  Applicants may not have any dependent children
  • Parent Retirement Category – this is available to those with family links to New Zealand who are able to make a significant contribution to the New Zealand economy.  To qualify the applicant must: have an adult child who lives in New Zealand and is either a New Zealand citizen or resident for at least three years; invest NZ$1 million for four years into an acceptable investment, demonstrate ownership of NZ$500,000 of settlement funds and an annual income of NZ$60,000 at the time of application and meet standard health and character requirements. 

Once residence is granted

With the first resident visa come travel rights which are valid for two years.  This allows the resident to leave New Zealand temporarily without endangering his or her residence status. 

At the end of the two years, residents can apply for a Permanent Resident Visa allowing multiple trips in to and out of New Zealand for at least the life of their passport and currently transferable to their next passport.  Eligibility depends on:

  • the amount of time spent in New Zealand during the first two years
  • holding New Zealand tax resident status
  • having established or invested (25%) in a business which has been trading successfully for at least a year
  • having an acceptable level of investment in New Zealand, or
  • having a family base in New Zealand (bough a home or been employed).


To qualify for citizenship, the applicant must have been resident for at least five years, be free of any convictions and have:

  • been present in New Zealand for at least 1,350 days during the five years immediately preceding the application, and
  • been present in New Zealand for at least 240 days in each of these five years.

Immigration advice

The only people legally able to give immigration advice in New Zealand are solicitors and licensed immigration advisers.  It is important that you establish the credentials of your adviser as Immigration will not generally accept applications where the advice has come from someone either unlicensed or not specifically exempted from holding a licence.  This requirement applies also to advice given from off-shore.

We make every effort to ensure the accuracy of the information provided but it should not be relied upon as a basis for making business decisions as circumstances, business conditions, government policy and interpretation of the law may change.