Immigration regulatory system

This page describes the immigration regulatory system, its objectives and our qualitative assessment of it. It also lists the main statutes and changes to regulation either proposed or in progress.

System description and objectives


Every sovereign nation has the right to decide and manage its immigration policies, which set out which non-citizens may enter and remain in its territory and under what circumstances. The objective of the Immigration Act 2009 is to manage immigration in a way that balances the national interest, as determined by the Crown, and the rights of individuals.

Government determines the policy objectives for the immigration system. These policy objectives include using immigration for economic gain and to manage border security, as well as meeting international relationship and humanitarian objectives, and enabling New Zealanders to reunite with or form families.

Significance of the system

More than a quarter of New Zealand’s population was born outside New Zealand, and immigration settings therefore play a large part in shaping New Zealand’s society and population into the long term.

The immigration system is important to the New Zealand economy (for example, international tourism is New Zealand’s largest services export industry, while work policy settings interact with both short and longer-term labour market objectives) and to New Zealand’s international relationships (for example, certain policy settings recognise New Zealand’s international commitments under a range of conventions; recognise historical ties with other countries; or support partnerships with other countries to meet common challenges, including security challenges).

System description

The immigration system is responsible for:

  • the provision of immigration services, including facilitating and processing visa applications
  • managing the movement across the New Zealand border of non-New Zealand citizens who have a bona fide reason for entry
  • attracting and supporting migrants, and
  • enforcing compliance and managing other immigration and security risks, including through international partnerships.

The system also encompasses the provision of refugee and protection services, including determining protection for claimants and selecting and resettling quota refugees.

The immigration system’s scope includes regulating persons who provide immigration advice, with the aim of promoting and protecting the interests of consumers receiving immigration advice, and enhancing the reputation of New Zealand as a migration destination.

How the system works

The primary regime is defined by the Immigration Act 2009 (the Act). Its accompanying Regulations set out the base requirements for, among other things, visas and entry permission, carrier information obligations and infringement offences, and refugee and protection status processing. Cabinet makes decisions on immigration policy settings, and these are reflected in both published immigration instructions, which are formally certified by the Minister of Immigration under s.22 of the Act, and published operational instructions. These are combined in the Operational Manual(external link).

Most of the functions and powers relating to the regime are administered by Immigration New Zealand (INZ), which is located within the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE). The New Zealand Customs Service (Customs) manages primary line arrivals processing on behalf of INZ, and designated Customs staff members are Immigration Officers for the purpose of granting entry permission and visas at the border.

The Immigration and Protection Tribunal (IPT) is an independent body, established under the Act to determine appeals against certain INZ decisions. It is located within and serviced by the Ministry of Justice.

The Immigration Advisers Licensing Act 2007 (the IALA) establishes the Immigration Advisers Authority (IAA), which regulates Immigration Advisers, facilitates their education and professional development, and fosters public awareness of the IAA and licensing regime. The IAA is located within the Market Services group of MBIE.

The Immigration Advisers Complaints and Disciplinary Tribunal (IACPT) is an independent body, established under the IALA to determine complaints against licensed advisers. It is located within and serviced by the Ministry of Justice.

The immigration policy function is situated in MBIE, within the Labour, Science and Enterprise group. The Ministry also undertakes data analysis of and research into migration and settlement issues.

Ministerial portfolio and statutes

Portfolio Statutes
Immigration(external link)
  • Immigration Act 2009
  • Immigration Advisers Licensing Act 2007

Regulatory agencies and their roles

Regulatory agencies
Immigration New Zealand (INZ) and Employment Services (ES) (including the Labour Inspectorate)
  • Advises on policy and system strategy (including broader labour and skills system and border security system, compliance with New Zealand’s international obligations)
  • Issues visas and grants entry permission
  • Processes refugee and protection status applications
  • Attracts skilled migrants to New Zealand
  • Researches migration and settlement issues
  • Delivers settlement services
  • Undertakes compliance activities, and investigates and prosecutes fraud, people smuggling / trafficking, and migrant exploitation (joint activity between INZ and ES)
Immigration Advisers Authority
  • Regulates Immigration Advisers
  • Prosecutes people providing unlicensed advice
  • Facilitates the education and professional development of Immigration Advisers
New Zealand Customs Service Manages the primary processing of people arriving in New Zealand (certain Customs Officers are designated as Immigration Officers under the Immigration Act 2009)
Independent tribunals (part of the immigration regulatory system, but not regulatory agencies)
Immigration and Protection Tribunal(external link) Hears and determines appeals against:
  • decisions about residence class visas
  • decisions about the recognition of a person as a refugee or protected person
  • liability for deportation
  • decisions to stop recognising a person as a refugee or protected person
  • decisions to cancel the recognition of a New Zealand citizen as a refugee or protected person.
Immigration Advisers Complaints and Disciplinary Tribunal(external link)
  • Determines complaints against licensed Immigration Advisers that have been referred by the Immigration Advisers Authority
  • Hears appeals against decisions made by the Immigration Advisers Authority.

Collaboration and information-sharing between regulatory agencies

Compliance and enforcement

INZ works with a range of agencies nationally and internationally on initiatives to improve compliance and enforcement. These initiatives include:

  • (within MBIE) collaboration with the Labour Inspectorate, which enforces and monitors minimum employment standards. This includes co-locating inspectors and co-ordinating operational resources and, when appropriate, sharing information through a case management system and information products to support regulatory activities across systems
  • (across the border sector) the Integrated Targeting Operations Centre (ITOC), which brings together Customs, Ministry for Primary Industries and INZ in one (Auckland) location. The ITOC partner agencies collaborate to identify potential threats to New Zealand from the movement of people, goods, aircraft or vessels
  • (across the Justice sector) the Identity Management Programme, to strengthen law enforcement, border security and the NZ identity eco-system
  • (with Inland Revenue) a seamless Digital Registration programme, which is an online tool enabling people approve a visa to immediately register for an IRD number
  • (with the New Zealand Qualifications Authority) a joint regulatory framework to manage international education and education provider performance
  • (internationally) bilateral treaties between New Zealand and Migration Five Country partners (the United States, Australia, Canada, United Kingdom) to support data-sharing to manage security and compliance risks.

Migrant settlement and integration

INZ leads the interdepartmental New Zealand Migrant Settlement and Integration Strategy, which supports recent migrants to make New Zealand their home, participate fully in and contribute to all aspects of New Zealand life. INZ also leads the Refugee Resettlement Strategy, which has a parallel role for former refugees. The New Zealand Now(external link) website provides useful and reliable information about living in New Zealand for new residents, workers and students.

INZ also collaborates with the Office of Ethnic Communities, Department of Internal Affairs and Human Rights Commission on the Welcoming Communities(external link) initiative. This supports local councils and communities to help newcomers feel welcome, and aims to promote better social outcomes, greater social cohesion and stronger economic growth.

Regulated parties and main stakeholders

People who are not New Zealand citizens and who would like to enter and be in New Zealand for a range of lawful purposes are regulated under the Act. 

Immigration Advisers (people who provide immigration advice, and who are not lawyers) are regulated by the Immigration Advisers Authority (IAA) under the Immigration Advisers Licensing Act (IALA), on behalf of the consumers of immigration advice. 

Processes for engagement with regulated parties and stakeholders

In line with good policy and regulatory development practice, MBIE consults on policy proposals as appropriate with interested parties, noting that this is not mandated under the Act. MBIE also proactively publishes relevant papers once government decisions have been made, to support the government’s broader transparency objectives.

MBIE makes extensive use of the outputs of research and the analysis of the outcomes of immigration policy settings, including evidence gained through the Integrated Data Infrastructure(external link) in the development of policy and operational changes, including settlement support.

The Registrar of the IAA is required under the IALA to develop competency standards and a code of conduct, and to consult with a range of interests, including the Minister of Immigration, persons or representatives of persons who engage in the provision of immigration advice; and appropriate bodies or persons representing persons seeking or receiving immigration advice.

System’s fitness for purpose

Learn more about the fitness-for-purpose assessment and ratings(external link)

This assessment was undertaken in mid 2017.


System has some issues against criteria

The immigration regulatory system supports government policy objectives to use immigration for economic growth and manage border security, by facilitating the entry of tourists, workers, students, migrants, investors and entrepreneurs while managing risk.

Changes to immigration legislation and instructions have been made, or are being developed, to maximise the economic contribution of immigration, including better targeting of migrants to fill skill and labour shortages, ensuring New Zealand businesses’ needs for skills are met, and increasing the level of capital and entrepreneurial skills from business migrants. The system also supports family reunification and international and humanitarian (refugee resettlement) objectives. The dynamic economic and risk environment means ongoing analysis of outcomes to ensure the immigration system is achieving the desired outcomes.


System performing well against criteria

In 2012, INZ launched a business transformation programme called Vision 2015 Programme. The Vision 2015 Programme’s intentions included reorganising the delivery of visa services, upgrading the ICT systems used to process visas, and ensuring support to staff during the transition. As outlined in the Controller and Auditor-General report, INZ’s good management practices resulted in the successful delivery of the Vision 2015 Programme and will help to realise all intended benefits. In general, the Vision 2015 Programme delivered efficiencies to the visa processing service, established online application for all the main temporary visa applications and introduced a world class biometric identity system.

In particular a major investment was made to introduce a world class identity management system, including biometrics, in recognition of the critical role INZ plays in supporting the integrity of the New Zealand identity management ecosystem. This is supporting enhanced regulatory capability to combat identity crime as well as contributing efficiency gains through improved identity assurance in the migration, Justice and border systems.

In addition, INZ conducted a review of the INZ Estimates of Appropriation Performance measures to improve the measures. The objective of the review was to:

  • address the requirements and expectations of New Zealand businesses and communities regarding immigration
  • measure the shift to online service delivery and recognise the investment and benefits from Vision 2015
  • focus on timeliness, quality and customer experience of INZ services
  • focus on compliance and the integrity of the immigration system.

In July 2016 INZ commenced the extension of its Vision 2015 Programme benefits framework to cover the entire change portfolio, build an enterprise benefits register, and extend its performance reporting and data collection. Finally, INZ implemented a Quality Management System (QMS) for the quality assurance of visa decisions; auto-cleared health case data entry, health cases decisions, and medical assessors’ health case determinations.


System has some issues against criteria

We monitor the performance of the system to ensure it is fit-for-purpose to achieve the Government’s long-term objectives for the economy, including whether it provides the right incentives for individual migrants and other stakeholders, such as employers. We are also working with other government agencies to address identified issues, for example exploitation of migrants in the labour market.

Work has been undertaken on potential changes to the Immigration Advisers Licensing Act 2007 to align with occupational regulation best practice.

Fairness and accountability

System performing well against criteria

Information about the system is widely and proactively disseminated through a variety of channels including websites and stakeholder outreach and by key stakeholders and feedback about the quality of guidance is generally positive. Contact with key stakeholders is frequent and built into regulatory policy and design processes.

A new centralised customer complaints system has been implemented including a new complaints policy to ensure complaints are well managed and any learning is fed into system improvements. Regular reviews of fees and levies involve significant stakeholder engagement.