How Permanent Residence Works In NZ

July 12, 2013
Paul Janssen

One of the most confusing pieces of Immigration Policy is the difference between ‘Residence’ and ‘Permanent Residence’. We spend countless hours explaining this to clients simply because INZ have made it rather difficult to understand. So in this week’s blog we are going to explain it to you, unravel the mystery, tear down the myths and hopefully simplify what can be a pretty mind boggling set of rules.

Unlike many countries around the world, when you secure Residence of New Zealand it is exactly that – permanent. It doesn’t expire in five years, two years or two weeks and it doesn’t need to be renewed periodically. It also grants the holder essentially the same rights and privileges as a New Zealand citizen without having a passport of course. There are a few exceptions such as a 12 month stand down period before you can vote (after 12 months you can vote for whoever you want), a two year stand down on Student Loans and Social Welfare benefits and some restrictions on being able to represent New Zealand internationally for various sporting codes, however, these restrictions are few and far between.

Residents pay the same taxes, can buy the same houses and take advantage of the healthcare and education systems in the same way a citizen can. We are a pretty generous lot.

However, New Zealand does want you to commit in some way before they will make all of these things available to you permanently and this is where the difference between ‘Resident’ and ‘Permanent Resident’ Visas comes in.

So how does it all work?

The following rules apply to most application types however, there are some slight differences for Investor or Parent Category applicants. These come with some additional conditions which your adviser should explain to you.

When your application for Residence is approved the first thing you will be issued with is a Resident Visa. If this is granted offshore, all family members included in the original application must enter New Zealand within 12 months from the date that the visa is issued. This is called the ‘First Entry Before’ date and will be listed on the top right hand side of the Visa label. It is important to remember that all family members who were included in the original application must enter NZ at least once before this date or their Visa will lapse which means they will lose their Resident Visa entitlement. Having said that the family does not need to enter on the same date within that 12 months and can travel separately.

If your Resident Visa is issued when you are onshore then your Visa won’t have a ‘First Entry Before Date’ as you are already here.

The second condition contained within your Resident Visa (which is usually the one that confuses most people) is the “Expiry Date Travel”. This is usually valid for two years from the date of your first arrival. So when you and all of your family members included in the application make your first entry you will all be given further ‘Travel Conditions‘ (the ability to enter and exit NZ as a Resident) for two years from that date. As this date is not written down anywhere it’s important that you make a note of this somewhere.

If your Residence was approved whilst you were in New Zealand the two years starts on the day that your Resident Visa was issued as you have already ‘entered’ New Zealand.

The initial Resident Visa you have allows you to live and work in New Zealand indefinitely, so if you never left you could legally stay even if your two years’ worth of travel conditions came and went. However if you were to leave New Zealand after those two years and return your Residence would be deemed to have lapsed.

This is where the Permanent Resident Visa comes into it.

A Permanent Resident Visa has the same rights and privileges as your Resident Visa however, the travel conditions (your ability to exit and re-enter NZ as a Resident) never expire. This is the ‘permanent’ part of the Visa. You can only apply for this at the end of the two years of your initial Resident Visa however, once you have it then you are essentially free to come and go and spend as much or as little time in New Zealand without jeopardising your ‘permanent residence’.

To qualify for a Permanent Resident Visa the principal applicant in the original application must satisfy one of five criteria. Generally it is only the principal applicant that must satisfy the criteria, however in some cases the other family members will need to have spent time in New Zealand.

The five criteria are as follows:

  • Significant period of time spent in New Zealand
  • Tax Resident status in New Zealand
  • Investment in New Zealand
  • Establishing a business in New Zealand
  • Establishing a ‘base’ in New Zealand

Explaining all five criteria would take a separate blog (for each) however the easiest one to meet and the one I will explain here is the first – significant period of time spent in New Zealand. In this case the principal applicant only must spend a period of 184 days in each of the two years from the date they first entered NZ. For example, if the whole family entered NZ on their initial Resident Visas (or were already here) on 01/01/14 then the principal applicant must spend:

  • 184 days in NZ between 01/01/14 and 31/12/14 and
  • Another 184 days between 01/01/15 and 31/12/15.

The 184 days does not need to be consecutive and can be broken up however, it must be 184 days in each year, e.g. you cannot combine the two 184 day periods into one year.

If you believe you may not qualify under this rule and would like to explore one of the other options you definitely need to speak to us. The other options can be complicated (not impossible) however we need to assess each situation carefully.

It is vital that you take steps to qualify for a Permanent Resident Visa within the original two year travel conditions; this will make your transition to Permanent Residence much smoother and less complicated.

Remember that a Resident Visa allows you the same access to education and health services as an NZ citizen and once you have spent 12 months in New Zealand you can vote in local and National Elections.

You can only apply for Citizenship once you have resided in New Zealand for 5 years, can demonstrate you have settled and integrated, speak fluent English and this country is your home. Citizenship is decided on an individual basis – so it is not like a residence application which is a family affair in which if one qualifies all qualify.

But that is a story for another day. We can assist you with your citizenship when the time comes but remind us in four and half year’s time.

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