Do I need a visa to enter Australia?
All non-citizens are required to hold a visa in order to enter and remain in Australia. There are two types of visas:
- Permanent visas. A permanent visa allows its holder to live in Australia indefinitely, with access to certain Government benefits and services as a permanent resident.
- Temporary visas. A temporary visa generally allows its holder to remain in Australia for a limited period of time, or a specific purpose. This type of visa often has visa conditions that limit such things as work or study rights.
There are a range of both permanent and temporary visas available. All Australian visas have eligibility requirements that vary depending on the purpose of the visa.
Most New Zealand citizens who enter Australia on a New Zealand passport do so under the Trans-Tasman Travel Arrangement. New Zealand citizens who enter Australia under this arrangement do not have to apply for a visa before travelling. They are granted a Special Category visa (subclass 444) (SCV) on arrival in Australia, subject to meeting certain health and character requirements.
The SCV was introduced on 1 September 1994 as a temporary visa. While minor changes have been made to this visa from time to time, the operation of the visa has remained unchanged since it was introduced.
Travel and migration
According to Australian records, well over one million New Zealand citizens arrive in Australia every year. The reasons are usually for a short holiday or business trip.
A New Zealand citizen wanting to enter Australia needs to present a valid New Zealand passport and Incoming Passenger Card for immigration clearance. By doing so, you are considered to have applied for a visa and, subject to health or character considerations, can be granted a Special Category visa (subclass 444). This visa is recorded electronically and your passport is stamped, showing the date of your arrival in Australia.
New Zealand citizens with any criminal convictions (that resulted in imprisonment or a suspended sentence) or tuberculosis should approach the nearest Australian immigration office, before travelling to Australia, to discuss your plan to travel to Australia.
If you use the SmartGate automated border processing system at airports, you will be advised that you have been granted a visa and can request to have your passport stamped.
People who become New Zealand citizens after their arrival in Australia, or enter on the passport of another country, can apply for a Special Category visa (subclass 444) at one of our offices.
Permanent or long-term arrivals
Australia has a large number of permanent visa options for those who want to migrate. Applicants for these visas must meet the requirements set out in migration law to be granted a visa and become an Australian permanent resident. All of these visas are available for New Zealand citizens to apply for and be granted, subject to meeting the statutory requirements. We cannot grant a permanent visa if you do not meet the specific requirements set out in migration legislation.
New Zealand citizens can travel without a visa and will usually be granted a Special Category visa (subclass 444) on arrival in Australia. The Special Category visa is unique under Australian migration law as it is a temporary visa that allows you to remain in Australia indefinitely with no work limitation or other conditions attached. As a result, many New Zealand citizens do not consider applying for a permanent visa.
New Zealand citizens considering living in Australia are encouraged to apply for a permanent visa before moving to Australia, or as soon as you become eligible in Australia. New Zealand citizens seeking an option to apply for a permanent visa are encouraged to explore the range of visa options under the Family and Skill streams by following the links available on our website at: www.immi.gov.au/migrants
The Australian Government does however acknowledge that not all New Zealand citizens will meet, or continue to meet the legislated requirements to be granted a permanent visa.
What is the Trans-Tasman Travel Arrangement?
The Trans-Tasman Travel Arrangement was announced in 1973. It allows Australian and New Zealand citizens to enter one another's country to visit, live and work, without the need to apply for authority to enter the other country before travelling. This arrangement is unique under Australia’s migration arrangements.
Since 1 September 1994, Australia has required all non-citizens to have a visa before they can enter and remain in Australia. This includes New Zealand citizens. To facilitate this universal visa requirement while respecting the Trans-Tasman agreement the Special Category visa (subclass 444) was introduced, reflecting the unique relationship Australia has with New Zealand. It allows New Zealand citizens, who are not of health or character concern, to enter Australia to visit or to live and work indefinitely, without the need to apply for a visa before travelling. Although the SCV allows New Zealand citizens to remain indefinitely, it has always been a temporary visa.
What rights do I have as a Special Category visa holder?
The SCV allows you to remain indefinitely in Australia as long as you continue to be a New Zealand citizen. While in Australia you can work and study without restriction. However, the SCV is a temporary visa and ceases once you leave Australia. It does not provide a direct pathway to a permanent visa or citizenship.
New Zealand citizens who enter Australia on an SCV might be entitled to certain Australian Government services and benefits, for example:
- access to Medicare
- some social security benefits.
Additional social security benefits are available to “protected Special Category visa holders”. The term “protected Special Category Visa holder” is defined within the Social Security Act 1991.
Where can I apply for a Special Category visa?
Applications for SCVs are usually made in immigration clearance (upon arrival in Australia). The visa is also granted in immigration clearance.
In limited circumstances, you can apply for an SCV after you have entered Australia.
This will usually occur in circumstances where you:
- hold a special purpose visa that is due to end—for example, a New Zealand crew member 'signs off' at a seaport. To remain lawfully in Australia, you need to apply for a Special Category visa (subclass 444) when you sign off
- arrive in Australia as a temporary visa holder and the visa has ended or is about to end
- are also the citizen of a third country and have travelled to Australia on the third country’s passport. You have been immigration cleared on the basis of this passport (and Australian visa) but later want to remain in Australia as a Special Category visa (subclass 444) holder
- acquire New Zealand citizenship after entering Australia and approach one of our offices asking to 'change your status' to a Special Category visa holder.
If you apply for an SCV at one of our offices after entering Australia or when 'signing off' at a seaport, you will be given an Incoming Passenger Card to complete, sign and date so that:
- a valid application is made
- you will provide certain relevant details and declarations.
How have changes over time affected New Zealand citizens in Australia?
Changes to travel arrangements
Reflecting our similar histories, the Australian and New Zealand Governments have had arrangements in place since at least the 1920s to assist a free flow of people between the two countries. The current arrangements have been in place since 1973.
The Trans-Tasman Travel Arrangement was introduced. The joint report released by the Prime Ministers of Australia and New Zealand (The Hon E.G. Whitlam QC MP and the Hon N.E. Kirk MP) on 22 January 1973 stated:
“The Prime Ministers agreed that citizens of each country and citizens of other Commonwealth countries who have resident status in either Australia or New Zealand should henceforth be able to travel between Australia and New Zealand, for permanent or temporary stay, without passports or visas.” (Productivity Commission 2012)
A series of ministerial-level agreements and understandings, dating from 1973 onwards, established a Trans-Tasman Travel Arrangement, which helped the entry of Australian and New Zealand citizens into one another’s country to visit, live and work without needing visas or permits.
1 July 1981
The Hon I.M. Macphee MP, Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs, announced that all those entering Australia under the Trans-Tasman Travel Arrangement were required to carry a passport valid for travel from this date.
This change was introduced on 1 July 1981 and at the same time Australia ended the previous arrangement where New Zealand permanent residents, who were citizens of other Commonwealth countries, were included under the Trans-Tasman Travel Arrangement.
1 September 1994
This date represented the commencement of supporting regulations to the Migration Reform Act. Under transitional Regulation 17, any New Zealand citizen who was not granted another visa on that day (either through another transitional regulation or an Act-based visa) was granted a SCV. The Special Category visa (subclass 444) was introduced on this day as a temporary visa.
Before this date, a New Zealand citizen who was in Australia as an exempt non-citizen was considered a permanent resident under the Migration Act 1958.
Entitlements to services and benefits
Within most Australian Government legislation, New Zealand citizens who live in Australia are defined as Australian residents. This means you have access to many of the services and benefits that apply to Australian citizens and permanent residents, including Medicare and Commonwealth-funded education places. The following information is provided in relation to the most common issues raised with the Department of Immigration and Citizenship by New Zealand citizens living in Australia.
Until 1986, both countries provided unlimited access to all social security payments and public health systems for each other’s citizens. In response to the substantial increase in the number of New Zealand citizens living in Australia, however, Australia tightened access to social security at various times, with the New Zealand Government often partially matching these various limits. (Productivity Commission 2012).
New Zealand citizens living in Australia today may be eligible for a number of social security benefits and services, including:
- child-related social security (such as baby bonus, child care benefit, parental leave pay)
- family tax benefits
- concession cards
- Age pension (under the bilateral agreement)
- Disability support pension (under the bilateral agreement)
- Carer Payment (under the bilateral agreement)
In all cases, specific entitlement can only be confirmed by the Department of Human Services (DHS). Information or clarification on what is covered under the bilateral agreement can be obtained from DHS or NZ Work and Income (a part of the New Zealand Ministry of Social Development).
Information on the changes over time in Australia, (source: Productivity Commission 2012), with specific detail on the effect of the 2001 changes, is:
A six-month waiting period was introduced for New Zealand citizens in 1986 for access to unemployment income support payments. At the time there was no waiting period that applied to holders of a permanent entry permit.
The Newly Arrived Residents Waiting Period was introduced in 1996 for Australian permanent residents. This period was usually for two years and applied to all new permanent residents but was not extended to SCV holders.
In 2000, a two-year waiting period was introduced for SCV holders to align the arrangements for New Zealand citizens with those that applied to new permanent residents.
On 26 February 2001, a new bilateral social security agreement between Australia and New Zealand was announced. This agreement set out arrangements for payment of age pension, disability support pension and carer payment (and their New Zealand equivalents) to the citizens of Australia and New Zealand when living in the other country. New Zealand citizens have access to these payments under the criteria set out in the bilateral agreement.
This bilateral agreement also recognised the right of each country to determine access to social security benefits not covered by the agreement, and to set related residence and citizenship rules according to the respective country’s national legislative and policy frameworks. In line with that principle, a number of supplementary changes were announced by Australia.
As a result, the Social Security Act 1991 requires New Zealand citizens who arrived in Australia after 26 February 2001, to apply for and be granted an Australian permanent visa if they wish to access certain social security payments (including income support payments) not covered by the bilateral agreement. To support this social security change, amendments were also made to citizenship and migration legislation to require New Zealand citizens to become permanent residents if they want to be eligible:
- for Australian citizenship, or
- to sponsor family members for a permanent visa.
Under transitional arrangements, these changes did not affect New Zealand citizens who:
- were in Australia on 26 February 2001 as Special Category visa (subclass 444) holders
- were outside Australia on 26 February 2001, but were in Australia as an SCV holder for a total of 12 months in the two years before that date, and subsequently returned to Australia
- had a certificate issued under the Social Security Act 1991, stating that they were living in Australia on a particular date. These certificates are no longer issued.
Medicare and PBS
New Zealand citizens who live in Australia are covered under the definition of “Australian resident” included in the Health Insurance Act 1973. New Zealand citizens visiting, that is, who do not live in Australia, are covered by the Reciprocal Health Care Agreement between Australia and New Zealand. Specific eligibility should be confirmed with the Department of Human Services (Medicare).
All New Zealand citizens are defined as Australian residents for the purpose of publicly funded Commonwealth supported education places (Productivity Commission 2012).
Student Loans (HECS-HELP or VET FEE-HELP)
Under the Higher Education Support Act 2003, only Australian citizens and permanent humanitarian visa holders can access HELP student loans or access the HELP discount for up-front payments (Productivity Commission 2012). *
Eligibility to enrol and vote in federal elections or referendums is limited to Australian citizens. If a New Zealand citizen was already enrolled (as a British subject) as at 25 January 1984, they may continue to be eligible to vote. More information is available about voting eligibility on the Australian Electoral Commission website.
Only Australian permanent residents are eligible for citizenship by conferral, subject to additional requirements being met. A legislative instrument (IMMI 07/037) made under the Australian Citizenship Act 2007 specifies that some people who do not hold a permanent visa are considered permanent residents for the purposes of that Act. This includes a provision reflecting the transitional social security arrangements that came into effect after 26 February 2001.
Eligible New Zealand Citizens (ENZC)
This is a defined term in the Migration Regulations 1994 which was amended on 26 February 2001 to reflect the social security changes:
eligible New Zealand citizen
means a New Zealand citizen who:
(a) at the time of his or her last entry to Australia, would have satisfied relevant Health and Character; and
(i) was in Australia on 26 February 2001 as the holder of a Subclass 444 (Special Category) visa that was in force on that date; or
(ii) was in Australia as the holder of a Subclass 444 visa for a period of, or periods that total, not less than 1 year in the period of 2 years immediately before 26 February 2001; or
(iii) has a certificate, issued under the Social Security Act 1991, that states that the citizen was, for the purposes of that Act, residing in Australia on a particular date.
An ENZC is eligible to sponsor a person for a permanent visa.
Resident Return Visa (RRV)
The Resident Return visa is suitable for those non-citizens who are:
- Australian permanent residents—those who hold a permanent visa
- former Australian citizens, but have renounced their citizenship and need to travel internationally
- former Australian permanent residents.
Former Australian permanent residents are described on the Department's website as:
“…any person who was recognised as a permanent resident of Australia within the context of the migration legislation that applied at the time they were living in Australia.”
This includes New Zealand citizens who were living in Australia prior to 1 September 1994 as exempt non-citizens.
For more information, see the Resident Return visa (subclass 155 and 157).
* References to Productivity Commission 2012, relates to information that has been sourced from the joint study by the Australian and New Zealand Productivity Commissions on “Strengthening Trans-Tasman Economic Relations”, which was released on 13 December 2012. This information is provided for reference only, and when they relate to eligibility for government benefits or services, specific eligibility would need to be verified by the Government department with policy responsibility for that benefit, service or the enabling legislation.