It is the first time the country has opened up since prime minister Jacinda Ardern announced its snap closure in the first month of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020. The country’s borders have been closed, apart from a short-lived travel bubble with Australia, for nearly two years.
Now the country has opened its Working holiday visas which allows people, usually aged 18 to 30, to travel and work in New Zealand for up to 12 months, or 23 months if they are from the UK or Canada. Approximately 19,500 people offshore who previously held a Working Holiday Visa but were unable to use it because of the border restrictions will be granted a new visa on 13 March. They will need to travel to New Zealand within the next six months (before 13 September 2022).
Before COVID-19 New Zealand welcomed around 50,000 working holidaymakers to New Zealand each year. Reopening their border to working holidaymakers will provide seasonal sectors like tourism, hospitality and the primary industries with access to more workers.
The following working holiday schemes are open to applications:
Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, United Kingdom, USA, Japan.
The border initially opened to fully vaccinated New Zealand citizens and visa holders – mainly those normally living in New Zealand – coming from Australia; then to eligible people from the rest of the world, and finally to all other fully vaccinated visitors such as tourists. They will still have to self-isolate at home for 10 days, but will no longer have to pass through the country’s expensive and highly space-limited managed isolation facilities, known as MIQ.
“It’s easy to hear the word MIQ and immediately associate it with heartache. There is no question that, for New Zealand, it has been one of the hardest parts of the pandemic. But the reason that it is right up there as one of the toughest things we have experienced, is in part because large-scale loss of life is not,” Ardern said.
Fully vaccinated New Zealanders and other eligible travellers from Australia have been able to enter New Zealand without staying in MIQ since Sunday 27 February. Two weeks later, those specifically eligible could come from all other countries. The working holiday scheme has resumed. By July, eligibility extends to vaccinated tourists from Australia and other visa-waiver countries.
Ardern said the two-week gap will enable public health systems to adjust for the likelihood of more cases in the community, and will allow the border systems to “keep scaling up in the safest way possible”.
From 12 April, 5,000 international students and other eligible temporary visa holders will be allowed to enter. After that, the border opens to Australians and other travellers who do not require a visa to enter New Zealand.
“This stage is likely to begin when we have much larger case numbers than we have now. For planning, we anticipate this stage will begin no later than July. I want to place strong emphasis on this being the latest we expect this to begin,” Ardern said.
All other international visitors will be allowed to enter New Zealand from October.
The self-isolation period will align with New Zealand’s current system for managing close contacts of cases. As the isolation period drops for close contacts, so too will returnees only need to isolate for seven days. Anyone entering will be given three rapid antigen tests to take home. All non-vaccinated travellers and other high-risk travellers will still be required to enter MIQ.
The announcement will provide relief for many New Zealanders overseas. A group that represents some of this cohort, Grounded Kiwis, said the move to self-isolation will enable more people to return home.
“Kiwis will no longer need to endure a stressful lottery to get home. Many people in our network are overwhelmed with emotion right now. This moment has been a long time coming.”
But it believes 27 February should be open to New Zealanders from across the globe, not just Australia: “Many of these individuals have been waiting for months already, are due to start new jobs or university in February, and in many cases are coming from locations with lower levels of Omicron than Australia.”