New Zealand: Immigration

Doing Business in NZ
Last Updated: 3 August 2011
Article by Andrew Poole and Mark Reese

Most Read Contributor in New Zealand, September 2016

"Haere mai" is Māori for welcome and New Zealand is one of the most open economies in the world. But there are rules and regulations that will apply, and we are familiar with them.

This "Doing Business in NZ" publication is designed to provide the prospective investor with an introductory guide to the New Zealand legal framework as it applies to business. The information provided was accurate at the time of publication, and will be updated regularly. 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.

We recommend that you seek advice specific to your needs before making any decisions and will be happy to assist.

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.

Visa types include:

  • temporary work visa
  • highly skilled visa
  • long-term business visa, and
  • residence visa.

Applicants for any visa must:

  • be of good character, 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 three 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 for the job.

An applicant may also be eligible when coming here for a specific purpose which will be of benefit to New Zealand.

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

More information about these various 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.

The long-term business visa

Those wishing to establish their own business, or to buy a minimum 25% stake in an existing business, can apply for a long term business visa or permit. As well as satisfying English language, health and character requirements, applicants must have:

  • sufficient funds to support their business, themselves and their family
  • a sound business plan (with realistic financial forecasts) which shows how the grant of the visa will be of benefit to New Zealand by:

    • creating new employment opportunities
    • saving a failed or failing company
    • improving exports, or
    • introducing new, or expanding on existing business concepts, technologies, services or products
  • relevant business experience or other expertise, including occupational registration where necessary, and
  • a good record; no business failures in the previous five years and no involvement ever in business fraud or wrongdoing.

The long term business permit is issued initially for nine months but will be extended to three years provided the holder has started the business within the initial visa period.

Two years after establishing the business, the applicant may begin an application for residence under the entrepreneur category.

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$0.75 million in New Zealand for two years into an acceptable investment, demonstrate ownership of NZ$0.5 million 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.

New Zealand residence

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

  • skilled migrant
  • 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. Only those who meet the appropriate criteria are invited to apply for residence.

More information is available at:

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 73 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 $1 million (transfer not required). The applicant must be under 65, have at least three years business experience and have some English language skills. Must stay in the country at least 146 days in each of the last three years of the four-year period.

More information is available at:

Entrepreneur category

Persons who have a successful business that has been in operation for two years and who have decided that they wish to live in New Zealand permanently can apply directly for a residence permit under the entrepreneur category.

Persons who are investing at least $500,000 and creating at least three new jobs can apply for residence under the entrepreneur plus category.

More information is available at:

Family category

Applicants may be able to apply for residence depending on their family connections in New Zealand.

The four options are:

  • partner - living for 12 months with a New Zealand resident or citizen creates an opportunity to apply for residence on partnership grounds
  • parent - the parents of a New Zealand citizen or resident may be eligible to apply for residence if they have an equal or greater number of children living permanently in New Zealand than in any other country (the 'centre of gravity' test)
  • adult child/sibling - an adult child or sibling who is alone in their home country may be eligible for residence if sponsored by an elder sibling or parent
  • 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; meet the 'centre of gravity' test for the Family Parent Policy, invest NZ$1 million for four years into an acceptable investment, demonstrate ownership of NZ$0.5 million 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 residence permit comes a returning resident's visa which is 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 an indefinite returning resident's visa allowing multiple trips into and out of New Zealand. Eligibility depends on:

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


To qualify for citizenship, the applicant must be a resident 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. While there are a few exceptions, it is important that you establish the credentials of your adviser as Immigration will not accept applications where the advice has come from someone either unlicensed or not specifically exempted from holding a licence. This requirement applies to advice given from offshore.

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.

The information in this article is for informative purposes only and should not be relied on as legal advice. Please contact Chapman Tripp for advice tailored to your situation.

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