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Do I stay or do I go? R21 Visa Applicant alert!

Updated: Feb 5, 2022

Today's breaking news still to be confirmed formally in writing by INZ is set to give the opportunity to R21 Visa Applicants to leave NZ directly following lodgement without prejudicing their place in the R21 queue.

Disclaimer: this is not advice to leave NZ. It is simply a discussion of the principles that could lead some to conclude that leaving NZ after lodging R21 is an option.

On 2 December we got a very important Amendment Circular (#58 of 2021!).

That Circular said that people granted residence through the R21 process from off-shore would be allowed to come in through the border. My antennae went up as this was a strange statement. Why? Because we knew already that family members included in a R21 application granted residence from off-shore would be able to travel because that is what the border entry rules say.

This seemed to be trying to tell us something new but without being clear. I thought it was trying to tell us the main applicant could now go off-shore and also expect to have their R21 processed as normal. This was totally the opposite of the earlier advice that if you left NZ your application would be frozen until you got back in.

In the last 3 weeks, I have been following up assiduously and it seems the call centre is already giving out the advice that people can go without prejudice.

Being cautious, I have not wanted to advise of this until it comes out formally from on-high. This is because call centre staff do not always get things right and are often at odds with advice coming out of other parts of INZ.

As of 10.45am this morning: the verbal conversation with INZ management is as follows:

🟩 Yes, R21 visas will be processed "as normal" even if the Principal goes off-shore. I will explain further what "as normal" is intended to mean

🟩 "As normal" means your R21 will be picked up in date order as if you were here on-shore. There is going to be no on-shore/off-shore differentiation

🟩 The official communications are due to come out later today if they stick to schedule and I will post as soon as we do get these. I gather there will be an Amendment Circular that changes the order of processing that makes this clearer.

🟩 The general order of processing will basically be this as I understand it:


Paper and R21 still get equal footings except we know more resourcing will be given to the R21 team than to the paper team (currently 10 times more and by March we would hope to see that go up to get exponentially more applications - perhaps some of you that get R21 will get hired by INZ as case officers!!!!): Sub-priorities for paper applications will be:

  • Ministerial directions cases (small-ish numbers expected)

  • IPT referrals (numbers unknown)

  • Priority i.e. registered occupations/high earners

  • Non priority (so if you are e.g. a non-priority SMC applicant from 2019 even if you got stuck off-shore through no fault of your own and cannot now lodge R21 due to being stuck, you will still play 2nd fiddle to a priority paper application being lodged even now, 2 years after you)

Sub-priority for R21 doesn't exist - it's supposed to per date order submitted (but then again, we know all sorts can happen there too!)


I stress: this is all still VERBAL and will be followed up, I hope, by formal communications later today.


Bottom line is: if all is sealed, split families can lodge and leave and simply ride out the processing (if you can afford to be away from your job in NZ) off-shore and return as a family unit with residence. Others can decide to quit NZ for a while to see other family or to travel and to come back in once residence is granted. Or if in either scenario, you leave holding a valid temporary visa (not an interim, mind) you can also hope to come in sooner if the border opens ajar for you before residence is granted.


I still urge to seek individual advice on your personal strategy but this is the general direction of things and I see it as hugely positive although at complete odds in many ways to one of the stated purposes of this visa being to provide certainty to employers.

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