COVID-19: Humanitarian exemptions for travel to New Zealand from a very high-risk country

Page last updated: 31 August 2021

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Important

If you are granted a humanitarian exemption you must also apply for and receive an MIQ voucher before you can return to New Zealand. You will not be able to enter the country without them both.

You will need to have applied for and been approved a humanitarian exemption before applying for a MIQ voucher. Having an approved humanitarian exemption does not mean you will also get an MIQ voucher. You must complete two separate application processes for each of these items. 

In summary, before travelling to New Zealand from a very high-risk country:

  • some people who do not automatically qualify to return may be eligible for a humanitarian exemption (check to see if you need one)
  • everyone returning also needs an MIQ voucher
  • everyone returning, except those coming from Fiji, will also need a negative pre-departure test, taken within 72 hours before you leave the very high-risk country
  • everyone needs a confirmed flight.

Countries that are currently very high-risk

Many countries around the world are experiencing a resurgence of COVID-19, and new variants of the virus are appearing. It is expected that because of this, more people will want to return to New Zealand from these countries.

To prevent the risk of a community outbreak in New Zealand and ensure Managed Isolation and Quarantine (MIQ) facilities and staff aren’t overwhelmed, the Government has created a list of very high-risk countries and travel from these countries to New Zealand is strictly limited.

The current list of very high-risk countries is:

  • Brazil
  • Fiji
  • India
  • Indonesia
  • Pakistan
  • Papua New Guinea

The Government reviews this list regularly.

The Unite Against COVID-19 website has the most up to date information about very high-risk countries.


People who can travel from a very high-risk country without needing to be granted a humanitarian exemption

Not everyone who is currently in a very high-risk country will need to apply and be granted a humanitarian exemption before they can return to New Zealand. Travel to New Zealand from a very high risk country is temporarily restricted to:

  • New Zealand Citizens
  • Partners and dependent children of New Zealand citizens, or
  • Parents of dependent children who are New Zealand citizens, together with any children of those parents who are not New Zealand citizens
  • Travellers from Fiji who are transiting New Zealand to another country. People must remain airside which means they must stay at the airport and not enter the country. People must spend less than 24 hours in transit in New Zealand
  • A medical attendant, patient, or person accompanying a patient travelling to New Zealand for medical transfer.

Partners of New Zealand citizens can be a spouse, civil union partner or de facto partner.
Dependent children are children under 18 years old.

People who do not need a humanitarian exemption must still have a negative pre-departure test (except Fiji) and an MIQ voucher before leaving for New Zealand.


If you cannot travel directly from a very high-risk country

If you are not covered by the groups above, you must

  • spend at least 14 days outside of very high-risk countries
  • or be granted a humanitarian exemption before flying to New Zealand.

You can transit through a very high-risk country without having to spend 14 days outside the country before you travel to New Zealand. There is no limit on the amount of time you may spend transiting through a very high-risk country, but you must remain airside. This means you'll remain at the airport and not enter the country.


People who can apply for a humanitarian exemption

Not everyone can apply for a humanitarian exemption to return to New Zealand from a very high-risk country.

To be eligible to apply you must meet specific criteria, including:

Criteria for applying for a humanitarian exemption
Criteria Details
Have a New Zealand Permanent Resident Visa 
or 
Have a New Zealand Critical Purpose Visitor Visa (CPVV)

Only people who have these types of visas can apply for a humanitarian exemption. 

New Zealand Critical Purpose Visitor Visas are granted for very specific reasons. If you have been granted a Critical Purpose Visitor Visa, you will need to apply for a humanitarian exemption for the same reason. 

For example, you have been granted a Critical Purpose Visa – P/C/Guardian of NZ Citizens or Residents visa. Your application for a humanitarian exemption also needs to be for reasons relating to your guardianship.

These visas are granted by Immigration NZ

Be 18 years or older

Everyone applying for a humanitarian exemption must be 18 years or older.

For anyone younger than 18, a parent or guardian will have to make an application on your behalf.

Have been in a very high-risk country at any point in the 14 days immediately before arriving in New Zealand

This doesn’t include any high-risk countries that you may have had to transit through to get to New Zealand. 

Being ‘in transit’ is where you stop to change flights, but you do not go through immigration or customs checks, or leave the airport.

You can only apply for a humanitarian exemption to return to New Zealand if you are currently situated in a very high-risk country. We will not assess applications from people currently in New Zealand.

Having an “Accepted travel reason” See Accepted travel reasons below.

Not be able to delay travel

All applications for a humanitarian exemption must be for reasons where travel is necessary and cannot be delayed.

Accepted travel reasons for a humanitarian exemption 

There are also specific travel reasons which mean you may be eligible for a humanitarian exemption to travel to New Zealand. These include:

  • There is a serious risk to you or your dependant's health or safety.
  • You are ensuring a child (under 18 years old) or dependant  is provided with appropriate care and protection. 
  • You cannot legally remain in a very high-risk country, and your only option is to return to New Zealand.
  • You have a terminal illness and need to travel to New Zealand, or return to New Zealand, because of this. 
  • One of your close relatives has a terminal illness and you need to travel to New Zealand, or return to New Zealand, because of this. 

Read more about each of these travel reasons below and find out if one of them applies to you. 

There may be some very rare situations where we may be able to accept applications for a humanitarian exemption if you are travelling for a different reason. 

Travel reasons that will not be accepted 

Some reasons for travel to New Zealand will not meet the specific criteria to be granted a humanitarian exemption. These include:

  • Flight cancellation
  • Attendance at funerals, memorial services and tangihanga are excluded, as it is often possible to make alternative arrangements such as attending a memorial via video conference
  • Economic activity such as commercial/business activity
  • To be reunited with family
  • To attend school/university
  • To attend work.

Evidence you will need to support your application for a humanitarian exemption

You will need to include evidence to support your application for a humanitarian exemption. Don’t worry, we will tell you the type of evidence you need to include. You only need to give us the information we’ve asked for. If you send us too much, it may take longer to process your application.

What not to send us

There are certain types of evidence that we will not accept with your application. Do not send us:

  • Photos of people in hospital.
  • Medical prescriptions.
  • Any documentation that does not have an official letterhead or stamp.
  • Any medical documentation that does not directly relate to your reason for traveling to New Zealand.
  • Any letters from family or friends.

What every application must have

  • Copies of the front page of each applicant’s passport. 
  • Copies of the visas (either a New Zealand Permanent Resident Visa or Critical Purpose Visitor Visa) for each of the applicants.

Additional evidence required for applications depending on your reasons for travelling

The type of evidence you need to include with your application will depend on your reason for travelling to New Zealand. However, there are general rules that apply to all applications. 

  • Any medical evidence must be in the form of a letter from a doctor or medical professional. 
  • All documents must be clear enough to read (preferably typed). Check the quality of each document before you send it to us. We must be able to see all the information clearly. 
  • We can only accept documents in English.

Look for your reason for travel in the list below to find the type of evidence you will also need to include with your application.

Please review all sections that apply to your application.

Applications that include a dependant 

To meet the criteria for a humanitarian exemption, we define a dependant as an individual you support. 
For example, this may include someone who relies on you for day-to-day support. Or this may include someone who has an intellectual or physical disability. It could also include someone you have power of attorney for. 

All applications that include a dependant will require evidence to verify your dependant meets our definition. Examples of evidence we will accept are:

  • A document confirming you have power of attorney for the individual.
  • A custody agreement.
  • A court order.
  • A doctor or medical professional’s letter stating that the individual requires full-time care, and that you are the only person that can provide this.
Applications that include a close relative

To meet the criteria for a humanitarian exemption, we define a close relative as a:

  • Husband / wife or partner.
  • Parent.
  • Child.
  • Brother or sister.
  • Grandparent.
  • Grandchild.
  • Husband / wife or partner’s parent.
Applying because there is a serious risk to you or your dependant's health or safety 

If you are applying because there is a serious risk to you or your dependant’s health, you will need to provide medical evidence from a doctor or medical professional that confirms all of the following are true:

  • Remaining in the very high-risk country means there is a risk to health that is more serious than the risk of getting COVID-19.
  • that travelling to New Zealand will significantly improve your health. 
  • that this serious risk to your health can not be addressed where you are currently.

If you are applying because there is a serious risk to you or your dependant’s safety, you will need to provide evidence of this by including one (or more) of the following:

  • A statement from the Police.
  • A Court order.
  • A letter from a doctor or medical professional. 
  • A custody record.
  • A statutory declaration or affidavit.
Applying to ensure a child (under 18 years old) or dependent is provided with appropriate care and protection  

If you are applying because you need to provide appropriate care and protection for a child (under 18 years old) or dependant , you will need to provide evidence that: 

  1. Care and protection is needed; and 
  2. That this cannot be provided where the child or dependant currently is. 

Evidence of this is:

  • A statement from the Police.
  • A court order.
  • A letter from a doctor or medical professional. 
  • A custody record.
  • A statutory declaration or affidavit.

If the child or dependant is your child, you will also need to provide a copy of their birth certificate. 

Applying because you cannot legally remain in a very high-risk country, and your only option is to return to New Zealand 

If you are applying because you cannot legally remain in a very high-risk country, and your only option is to return to New Zealand, you will need to provide evidence of:

  • Your citizenship status (passport or citizenship certificate)
  • Why you cannot legally remain in a very high-risk country. This could be:
    • Formal documents from a visa-issuing agency.
    • A letter from the government of the very high-risk country.
Applying because you have a terminal illness and need to travel to New Zealand, or return to New Zealand, because of this  

If you’re applying because you have a terminal illness and need to travel to New Zealand to visit a close relative , you’ll need to provide: 

  • Evidence of your relationship to the person you are visiting or have visited. This could be:
    • A birth certificate/s
    • Affidavit or statutory declaration
    • Marriage certificate
  • A letter from your doctor or medical professional that says you need to travel immediately because you are in your final stages of life. Where possible, this letter should include anticipated life expectancy.

We understand that asking for this information is hard and that doctors may not want to provide this information. 

We will accept a description of your current health situation instead of an anticipated life expectancy. Examples of descriptions include that you:

  • Are terminally ill.
  • Are in your final or end stages of life.
  • Have been diagnosed with certain end stage illnesses such as stage IV cancer.
Applying because one of your close relatives have a terminal illness and you need to travel to New Zealand, or return to New Zealand because of this  

If you’re applying because one of your close relatives  has a terminal illness and you need to travel to New Zealand to visit or return to New Zealand after visiting your relative overseas, you’ll need to provide: 

  • Evidence of your relationship to the close relative you are visiting or have visited. This could be:
    • birth certificate/s
    • an affidavit or statutory declaration
    • a marriage certificate
  • A letter from your close relative’s doctor or medical professional that says you need to travel immediately because your close relative is in their final stages of life. Where possible, this letter should include anticipated life expectancy.

We understand that asking for this information is hard and that doctors may not want to provide this information. We will accept a description of your close relative’s current health situation instead of an anticipated life expectancy. Examples of descriptions include that:

  • Family need to visit as soon as possible.
  • Your close relative is terminally ill.
  • Your close relative is in their final or end stages of life.
  • Your close relative has been diagnosed with certain end stage illnesses such as stage IV cancer.

How to apply for a humanitarian exemption

If you have read all the information on this page and believe you may qualify for a humanitarian exemption, and you have the supporting evidence you need to include with your application, please complete the application form. 


Next steps

Once you have submitted your application the Ministry of Health will assess it. 

There may be times when we need to email you to ask for more information. So it’s important you check your emails regularly. This includes checking your “junk” or “spam” folders. 

How long will I need to wait for my application to be processed?

You must apply for a humanitarian exemption at least 5 working days before you arrive in New Zealand. 

We will seek to process your application within 2–5 working days. We may ask you for additional information regarding our application. If we do not hear back from you within 10 working days, your application may be closed.

If you have completed your application and provided all of the information we need to assess it, we will make sure you know if your application has been approved or declined before you arrive in New Zealand. 

Remember, if we need more information from you to assess your application, it may take longer to process. 

How do I correct a mistake or add more information to my application once I have submitted it?

We cannot update applications once they have been submitted. If you realise you have made a mistake or you need to provide us with more information, you will need to submit a brand new application. 

In your new application you will need to reference your original application number – this looks like “A-0XXXX” and will be displayed on the final screen in the application form.  

What happens if my application is approved?

If your application is approved, you will receive an email from us. The email will have an attachment confirming you have been approved for travel from a very high-risk country to New Zealand. You don’t have to show this to anyone. We will have already told the right people at the airport that your applicant has been approved. This approval does not expire, so you will be able to use it to travel to New Zealand at any time.

It’s important you check your emails regularly. This includes checking your “junk” or “spam” folders.

Remember

What happens if my application is declined?

If your application is declined, you will receive an email from us. The email will have an attachment confirming your application has been declined to travel to New Zealand from a very high-risk country. 

We peer-review all applications to check we have made the right decision. If we have made a decision you don’t agree with you can submit a new application if you can provide us with more information.

If your application is declined a second time and you still don’t agree with us you can contact the Ombudsman .and ask them to review our decision.

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