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.

Key service design and operational changes

August 2016 to July 2017

Immigration New Zealand (INZ) has refreshed the Visa Processing Operating Model and developed a roadmap of change through to 2020. The key themes involve aligning INZ activities by customer, delivering greater product line accountability for end to end performance, and reviewing the INZ global processing model.

The Border operating model and roadmap has been developed and mobilised. This sets out INZ’s path for working with other agencies which to ensure NZ has a seamless border experience while optimally managing risk.

The eMedical system has been rolled out to the majority of Pacific states providing a more secure and seamless service for applicants requiring an immigration medical. New tools have been added to the Immigration website to make it easy for customers to find panel doctors and establish the fees and levies they are required to pay.

New online payment options such as Union Pay have been incorporated into the Immigration Online Application forms and the number of nationalities can use Smartgates at the border has been expanded.

INZ is working with a range of agencies nationally and internationally to improve compliance and enforcement. These include:

  • Joint Regulatory Engagement Group (JREG) – a cross-MBIE programme
  • The Identity Management Programme in the Justice sector to strengthen law enforcement, border security and the NZ identity eco-system.
  • A treaty has been signed with US State Department and other Migration Five Country partners (Australia, Canada, United Kingdom) after 9 years of negotiation to support world class data sharing.
  • Working with IRD to establish a seamless Digital Registration programme an online tool for new immigrants to register for an IRD number after a visa has been granted.
  • Joint regulatory framework with NZQA across international education and education provider performance.

August 2017 to July 2018

An INZ Controls and Assurance Framework project is underway to review the monitoring of INZ operational activities. This includes monitoring regulatory compliance. The Framework reporting will form part of the INZ System Health evaluation work.

Proposed regulatory changes

Matter name Policy Planned consultation Status
Regulatory Systems Amendment Bill 3

Matter type: Bill
It is proposed the Bill would implement a number of minor, technical changes following a review of the Immigration Advisers Licensing Act 2007. Consultation with agencies and targeted stakeholders on proposed changes was completed during 2018. Seeking Cabinet approval of proposals in June 2019, and targeting introduction of the Bill by end of 2019.
Immigration (Visa, Entry Permission, and Related Matters) Amendment Regulations.

Matter type:Legislative Instrument
A review of immigration fees and levies is scheduled for 2020/21. Any changes to rates would be specified in the regulations. Consultation will be undertaken following the development of a framework for the review. Planning will commence in 2020.

Planned service and operational changes

Strategic reset: “Striking the Balance”

In 2018, INZ reset its strategic goals to focus more explicitly on immigration risk. INZ’s strategic outcomes have been adjusted to include:

  • identifying and managing risk and vulnerability early
  • ensuring the immigration system drives compliant behaviour, and
  • minimising harm from immigration.

Budget 2019 provided $31 million over four years in operating funding for INZ for additional resources for immigration education, intelligence, compliance and investigation functions.

This funding is supporting a targeted compliance strategy, initially in two priority sectors, aimed at better detecting and punishing unlawful behaviour and incentivising industry self-regulation, to increase compliant behaviour by employers. It will support:

  • additional immigration education, intelligence, compliance and investigations staff.
  • additional education resource to drive more proactive information and education activities and engagement with industry
  • up to two large-scale investigations per sector into instances of immigration non-compliance by businesses.

Specific initiatives supporting the strategic reset are outlined below.

Border initiatives

Border operating model

INZ has developed and mobilised a border operating model and roadmap. The border operating model has twin goals of:

  • facilitating legitimate travellers through the New Zealand border and
  • optimally managing risk at the earliest point (focused on preventing people who should not enter New Zealand from doing so).

Achievement of these goals is supported by the appropriate use of advance (before travel / before arrival) information (specifically Advance Passenger Processing information and Passenger Name Record data, but also the NZeTA – see below). The roadmap includes INZ’s path for working with partner agencies, particularly Customs.

Electronic Travel Authority (NZeTA)

INZ is implementing the Electronic Travel Authority (NZeTA) from July 2019. Holding an NZeTA before embarkation for New Zealand will be obligatory for certain visa waiver travellers from 1 October. INZ will also progressively roll out advance passenger processing in the marine sector (for cruise passengers and crew) from 1 October 2019.

The introduction of the NZeTA will deliver a number of benefits at New Zealand’s border. These include providing assurance to New Zealand about the purposes and characteristics of international travellers and closing the gaps in New Zealand’s border security settings, in particular by implementing marine advance passenger processing functionality for cruise vessels.

The NZeTA platform will also enable intending travellers to check that they are statutorily eligible to travel on a visa waiver to New Zealand. It will enable travellers to receive timely information (such as New Zealand’s biosecurity requirements). New Zealand citizens and visa holders will not need to hold an NZeTA, and Australian citizens are exempt, in recognition of the Trans-Tasman Travel Arrangement.

Visa Services

Visa Services 2020

INZ has continued to develop its future model for service delivery (Visa Services 2020), as it moves towards a future that will be largely online. The Visa Services Operating Model will ensure faster, more accurate and consistent visa decision-making. INZ is specialising visa processing into five product categories (Business, Education, Tourism, Community and Specialist), and consolidating visa processing to fewer, strategically chosen sites. An enhanced risk and verification (R&V) presence is also under development as a critical part of the new model (described in more detail below).

The alignment of visa processing by product stream enables INZ to consolidate processing activities into fewer sites globally. As at early 2019, offshore visa processing has been centralised to two sites in Asia, each focused on specific visa products. The three in the Pacific remain unchanged. Onshore visa processing has also been aligned by customer segment.

Risk and verification

INZ is enhancing its global R&V network through the establishment of dedicated R&V specialists with direct lines for reporting, based in 11 offshore locations. With the move from market-based to product-based processing, in fewer sites, Visa Services will need to be constantly alert to changes across the globe, including through quickly identifying activities intended to manipulate the visa processing system. The R&V teams will be responsible for providing advanced verification activity in support of visa decision-making, as well as identifying risks, issues and trends arising from markets which may affect the integrity of the immigration system.

Operational improvements

INZ is also continuing to invest in operational improvements, many of which will not be obvious to external customers but which will improve the efficiency of its systems and operational processes. These include:

  • implementing a databroker mechanism to improve synchronising of information between internal IT systems
  • a new INZ strategy to strike the right balance between facilitation and managing risk early to ensure the immigration system operates seamlessly as an effective regulator. INZ is developing a full risk operating model.

Identity management

INZ is also working with a range of agencies to continue to improve identity management, with benefits for users (particularly on a customer-nominated basis) and for New Zealand and global security. Work in this space includes the Department of Internal Affairs’ project to develop an Approved Information Sharing Agreement for customer-nominated services, to enable New Zealanders to access government services more easily, and reduce identity fraud.

Controls and Assurance Framework

An INZ Controls and Assurance Framework project is underway to review the monitoring of INZ operational activities. This includes monitoring regulatory compliance. The project is expected to be completed in mid-2020.