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Not Much Clarity on New Zealand’s Yacht Immigration Rules

A few weeks ago we wrote about New Zealand’s current immigration policy, which stated that immigrant yachts that leave the country cannot return until after the same amount of time they were in the country — put simply, if you were there for six months and then left, you would not be allowed to return until another six months had passed. That doesn’t sound too bad, under normal circumstances, but when you throw COVID lockdowns into the mix, things take an interesting turn.

Francene McLaughlin’s was one of several hundred yachts that had been stranded in New Zealand (NZ) during COVID, and upon leaving the country in June this year, she was told she could not return for another two years. Francene wrote to us in the hope of finding some information about any changes to this rule that would enable her to return sooner. And while we didn’t have a lot of news for her when we wrote about her plight, we did later receive an email from Viki Moore of Island Cruising NZ. Ms. Moore had read our story and wrote to us with some information that, while not solving the problem, does indicate that others are also addressing the issue and looking for solutions.

Fiji to New Zealand
Many cruisers have taken the 1300-mile voyage from Fiji to New Zealand to escape the South Pacific’s cyclone season.
© 2022 Google

In 2020 Moore started a Facebook group called “Sailors with COVID Immigration Issues NZ.” The group has more than 360 members, all of whom are in a situation similar to Francene’s.

“Many of the people in the group had been stuck in New Zealand over lockdown, unable to leave as they wouldn’t have been able to return to get back to their boats. Earlier this year we spoke to the local Member of Parliament about the issue of those sailors not being able to return to New Zealand due to the current visa policy. Our appeal to the Minister of Immigration was supported by many of the local marine businesses who also valued the returning sailors who had spent many years in NZ and the Pacific, spending six months here in New Zealand and then six months away in the South Pacific, which they were entitled to do. Sadly our appeal was declined as the reasons for wanting to return in NZ were not considered to be exceptional circumstances.

“The immigration law states that anyone who has been in New Zealand for 12 months or more must remain outside New Zealand for 12 months before a further application for a visitors visa may be approved,” Moore wrote.

“She [Francene] has got a few options.

  1. Leave the boat in Fiji and fly home and apply to return to NZ in October next year (this is what most of my people have done).
  2. Sail to Australia instead, then back to the South Pacific in May and back to NZ in October next year (a few others have done this too).
  3. Apply for a visa, get declined and then appeal to the Minister of Immigration, if she has some exceptional reasons as to why she should be able to come back to NZ (but I doubt she’d get this approved as no one to my knowledge was able to when we appealed to the Minister in May this year). This process can also take months.”

We forwarded this information to Francene, who at the time of her response said they were thinking about heading back to the US, “after 28 years floating around the South Pacific.”

That said, it sounded as if the decision was yet to become action. If you or anyone you know is in a similar situation regarding New Zealand, you could reach out to Viki Moore at Island Cruising NZ. You could also look up these websites: Reopening the New Zealand border | Immigration New Zealand and New Zealand visas | Immigration New Zealand.

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