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Immigration & refugees

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Overview of New Zealand’s immigration system

New Zealand’s immigration rules and decision-makers

Where can I find all the immigration laws and rules?

The laws and other rules that will be relevant for any immigration issue you might have are found in a number of places:

  • Immigration laws – The Immigration Act 2009 and various sets of immigration regulations contain the key laws dealing with coming to New Zealand and staying here. However, these usually don’t set out the specific requirements for getting a particular type of visa – those requirements are usually contained in policies made by the government (see below). The immigration laws deal mostly with the processes for making decisions and with issues like what appeal rights you might have if you want to challenge one of Immigration New Zealand’s decisions.
  • Immigration policies – Many of the key immigration rules that will affect you, including the grounds on which Immigration New Zealand will decide whether or not to grant you a visa, are contained in government policies – which the Immigration Act calls “instructions”. Policies can be changed much more easily and more often than laws. You can read these policies in Immigration NZ’s “Operational Manual” (see below). If the legal reference we give in this chapter for a particular rule is for the Operational Manual, rather than to the Immigration Act or immigration regulations, you’ll know that the rule is based on government policy, not laws made by Parliament.
Finding specific Immigration NZ policies in their Operational Manual

    The immigration laws allow the government to put their specific immigration policies into the form of “Instructions”. Immigration New Zealand publishes these instructions in its Operational Manual, which it makes available on its website at www.immigration.govt.nz/opsmanual.

    Any particular rule in the Manual will have a reference number like “V3.10” or “SM14”, with the letters (here, “V” and “SM”) indicating what the topic is. “V3.10”, for example, is about “Visitor Visas”, in the part of the Manual called “Temporary Entry”.

Who makes immigration decisions?

The government agency that makes decisions about visas and entry to New Zealand is Immigration New Zealand, which is a part of the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment. The Immigration NZ staff who make the decisions are called Immigration Officers, although some types of decisions have to be made by Immigration NZ managers. A few decisions are made by the Minister of Immigration personally.

Decisions about claims for refugee status are made by a separate part of Immigration NZ, called the Refugee Status Branch. The staff who make these decisions are called Refugee and Protection Officers. They can’t make decisions about visas and other immigration issues, in the same way that Immigration Officers can’t make decisions about refugee status and other refugee issues. For information about claiming refugee status, see the chapter “Refugees”.

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Community Law


Your local Community Law Centre can provide free initial legal advice and information.

Immigration New Zealand


Immigration New Zealand is the government organisation that deals with visa applications and other immigration issues. It’s part of the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment.


You can read Immigration NZ’s Operational Manual at www.immigration.govt.nz/opsmanual

Immigration and Protection Tribunal


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