What does COVID-19 mean for New Zealand Citizens living in Australia?
The economic and social challenges that have resulted from COVID-19 have been extremely stressful for most Australians.
We know that migrants are facing exceptional circumstances, where the anxiety around finances and visa status continues to grow. We have been receiving a lot of calls from New Zealand citizens residing in Australia who are now looking at their own situation to ensure their families are protected.
Why New Zealanders should act now, rather than holding off
Although it has always been our position that New Zealanders living in Australia should look to gaining Australian permanent residency or citizenship straight away, we believe it is now more important than ever to take these steps. In this ever-changing environment, many New Zealanders are worried about how they will survive over the coming months if they lose their income.
Many New Zealanders who have lived and worked in Australia for many years on the special category visa they were granted on arrival to the country, are finding they are not eligible for assistance from the Government if they lose their jobs, including JobSeeker payments.
Some may be eligible for the Jobkeeper payment, but there are still many that will fall through the cracks making it very hard for them to make ends meet.
Eligibility for Jobkeeper and Jobseeker payments for New Zealanders
It is well-known that the Australian Government has tried to make some provisions for New Zealand citizens residing in Australia to assist them with the COVID-19 pandemic; an example of this being the inclusion of New Zealanders in the JobKeeper arrangement.
Despite this, it appears many New Zealanders who are currently out of work are restricted from eligibility with the JobSeeker payment and thus are significantly disadvantaged (particularly those who are unable to return to New Zealand due to a range of factors).
What are the options for permanent residency?
In order to safeguard your rights in Australia in these increasingly uncertain times, we believe it is in your best interest to explore your options and look to make your visa more permanent. We have discussed several pathways below which may be worth considering.
1. Skilled Independent – New Zealand stream
As you may be aware, New Zealand Special Category (subclass 444) visa holders in Australia can potentially access permanent residency through the General Skilled Migration Visa Category (namely the Subclass 189 Skilled Independent – New Zealand stream).
Generally speaking, you are eligible for this visa if you have met the following requirements:
- Your taxable income on your Notice of Assessment issued by the Australian Tax Office for each of the four completed financial years before applying for the visa is over an income threshold (usually $53,900) unless you fall within an exemption
- Currently hold a New Zealand Special Category (subclass 444) visa
- Lived in Australia for five years; and
- Meet various health and character requirements (amongst other things).
2. Former Permanent Residency
It is important to note, that if you do not meet the above, there may be other more suitable visa pathways for you to access permanent residency.
Did you enter Australia prior to 21 August 1994?
New Zealand citizens who entered Australia before 21 August 1994, were considered exempt non-citizens and thus effectively permanent residents of Australia.
So, if you are currently in Australia and previously entered before 21 August 1994, there may be scope to argue that you were previously a permanent resident of Australia and therefore may be eligible for a Resident Return visa (which is a type of permanent visa).
It is important to note that this visa pathway is complex and there is a large range of additional visa requirements that will need to be met, in order to pursue this pathway.
This is not a straight-forward visa pathway. If you have entered Australia before 21 August 1994, I would encourage you to get in contact with this office to discuss your options.
3. Other pathways
In addition to the above, there may be other visa pathways for permanent residency (for example, a partner visa application) and you should look to explore all of your options.
Given the very uncertain times that lay ahead, we encourage New Zealanders living in Australia should be taking active steps to ensure that they can remain in Australia and their rights are well protected.
What are my next steps?
If you have any questions at all, please contact us by clicking here or give us a call on 1300 193 326 to ensure you are covered legally. We are working remotely, but we are 100% business as usual for all clients through this COVID-19 outbreak.