Current Border Situation in NZ & Our Predictions for 2021

Update (14 January 2021):

“The Government has approved an exception class for 1000 international tertiary students, degree level and above, who began their study in New Zealand but were caught offshore when border restrictions began. The exception will allow students to return to New Zealand in stages from April 2021.

Border exception details

Students with questions about this border exception should contact their providers.  

To be eligible for this border exception, students must

  • hold, or have held a visa to study in 2020
  • be studying towards a bachelor’s degree level or above qualification
  • have studied in New Zealand in 2019 or 2020 toward their current qualification
  • be returning to study with their current provider
  • need to be in-country to complete their study.

Priority will be given to students who are closest to graduation.”

For more information:


Original Article:

We understand that many of our partners and clients who are located overseas may have many questions about the current situation in New Zealand. Please find our summary and predictions below (written on the 18th December 2020).

1. Border Restrictions:

International travel to New Zealand has plummeted in 2020 due to the pandemic, and travel is generally only permitted for New Zealand citizens or resident visa holders and their families (partner and children). However, limited exceptions to these restrictions are granted to those who meet the stringent requirements for critical travel, and successfully requested border entry and obtained a special visa to travel to New Zealand (you may find the list of critical purposes for travel here).

One recognised critical purpose for travel is granted to certain health workers, such as internationally qualified nurses who have been invited by the Nursing Council of New Zealand and are enrolled in a Competence Assessment Programme (CAP) starting before 31 March 2021.

You may think that the March deadline to begin the course is burdensome – however, we note that under the previous policy, the CAP course had to start in 2020, but this was extended March 2021 only recently. It is entirely possible that the deadline will be extended again, possibly to mid- or late-2021.

As a loyal partner of many CAP course providers, we have been working with them to enrol qualified candidates in CAP courses, and later assist them with their critical purpose visa to allow them to enter New Zealand and study here. If you would like to know more, please feel free to contact us anytime.

2. Offshore visa application suspension

You may be aware that INZ stopped accepting most offshore visa applications in August, so it is currently not possible to apply for a visa from outside of New Zealand (except for the family of New Zealanders and those with a recognised critical purpose for travel).

We have recently received confirmation that this moratorium on offshore temporary visa applications has been extended to at least May 2021.

More information about Student Visas can be found here.

3. What will happen long term:

Despite all the bad news, there is cause for optimism: to quote Minister of Education and of the COVID-19 Response, Hon Chris Hipkins, “we are seeing the light at the end of the tunnel”.

On the 17th December 2020, the New Zealand government announced an additional pre-purchase of COVID-19 vaccines. So far, a total of 7.6 million doses have been secured from AstraZeneca – enough for 3.8 million people – and further 10.72 million doses will come from Novavax – enough for 5.36 million people. These are additional to the earlier announced pre-purchase agreements for 750,000 courses from Pfizer/BioNTech and 5 million from Janssen. Vaccination will be free for all New Zealanders.

However, the government anticipates there will be a further 12-18 months of disruption before border policy returns to a normal state. (Read the Minister’s message here, published on 15 December 2020)

See below for a timeline we put together based on the information publicly available.

4. What will happen in 2021:

Based on the media articles and information we have received from different channels, what may happen in 2021 will be:

  • The first group of international students, about 190 PhD and Master students will come back early next year. This was the first group of international students under a new border exception category that the government was announced in October 2020. The delay of their returning is caused by the shortage of quarantine facility.
  • There will be more groups allowed to come back in 2021, not only high-level students but also students from ITPs PTEs and schools. The number mentioned by universities and institutions is about 1,000 to 2,000.
  • Possible priority levels could be (based on the current policy and our prediction):
    1. Students who had studied in NZ before and with a valid visa when the border closed, and are unable to continue studying online (this group may be smaller now after the first group of PhD and Master students came back).
    2. Students who had studied in NZ before and with a valid visa when the border closed.
    3. Students who have already started their study online.
    4. Students who have an offer of place ready.
  • You may have seen the article on New Zealand Herald: Covid 19 coronavirus: Agency floats possible 500 overseas students a month from January. Although it sounds encouraging, the number 500 is purely an assumption made by Education New Zealand when submitting a brief to the Minister in November.
  • From the advice we have had from the universities we work with, the government is unlikely to allow educational institutes to provide their own accommodation as quarantine for arriving international students. The government prefers to maintain their own state-supervised quarantine facilities.
  • Many institutions have placed a focus on online study for international students in 2021, especially universities.
  • The complete re-opening for the border will depend on the vaccination progress in New Zealand and the world. As stated above, the government estimates a twelve- to eighteen-month timeframe before the situation is stabilised.

5. Online study:

Many universities and institutions are suggesting that students enrol in their online courses as early as possible, because the government may prioritise students currently enrolled in such courses for travel to New Zealand when the border restrictions are relaxed. 

We do caution, however, that students should not expect that online study will guarantee eligibility for a post-study work visa: under current policy, eligibility for this visa requires a period of study undertaken inside New Zealand.

However, any period of New Zealand study undertaken online may save time and money by ensuring a smoother study pathway. It may also benefit students in future student visa applications, such as to establish that their genuine purpose of coming to New Zealand is to study (and not, for example, to holiday or work):

You can find online study options for 2021 one our page here.

(Disclaimer: The information provided above are of a general nature and are not intended to be personalised advice to any client. The information provided is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice. You may seek appropriate personalised advice from a qualified professional to suit your individual circumstances. Nothing in this site is, or should be taken as, a recommendation without first obtaining professional advice regarding its appropriateness to your personal circumstances.)

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