Turnaround – Could it happen to YOU?

Businesswoman Sleeping on an Airport Bench --- Image by © Heide Benser/Corbis

Every year some people travel to New Zealand with the expectation that they will spend time in our wonderful country, only to find themselves waiting to board a long flight back home.

This process is called Turnaround and in the June 2014/2015 year it happened to 1,345 people. Another 2,280 people were refused permission to board the flight to New Zealand in the first place.

To be fair, this does not happen that often. In the same time period 2.2 million[1] people passed through our airports, so the percentage who were declined permission to board or turned around was only 0.16%. But for those people who had the misfortune to be declined permission to board or be turned around, these statistics are irrelevant.

Why do people get declined permission to board or turned around?

Immigration New Zealand operates a two-tier approach to screening people who want to come to New Zealand:

  • Airlines flying to New Zealand operate an Advanced Passenger Processing system which is linked to Immigration New Zealand. This enables Immigration New Zealand to pre-screen people about to board flights and advise the carrier if they should be denied permission to board;
  • Passengers arriving in New Zealand are further screened at Customs and can be denied permission to enter New Zealand. These people are then turned around and sent back to their destination.

For security reasons Immigration New Zealand do not disclose how they select people to turn around. Sometimes there is a logical reason for them to select someone, for example if their bags have been identified by a drug detecting dog. Other times there seems to be no logical or fair reason why someone was selected.

But if I have a Visa I will be OK – won’t I?

Not necessarily. It is a common misconception that a Visa entitles the holder to enter New Zealand. All visas other than Resident Visas only entitle the holder to travel to New Zealand and apply for entry at the Border.

What happens if I am turned around?

You will be interviewed by Customs and Immigration Officials in the airport arrivals area. Your interview will be recorded. You will not be permitted to leave the arrivals area except to board an aircraft to leave New Zealand. In the interview officials may ask you to unlock your phone and may inspect your text messages, social media posts and emails. Your bags and clothes may also be swabbed for traces of drugs.

You will be issued with a statement advising you that you have to leave New Zealand and the airline you arrived on will be given written instructions to remove you from the country.

You have no rights of appeal or redress.

Do I need to worry about this?

If you have had some problem with the law in your home country or another country you should talk with an immigration adviser before you commit to coming to New Zealand.

You should also seek advice if you have had immigration problems with any country previously, for example:

  • declined a visa;
  • declined entry into a country or turned around at the border;
  • overstayed or breached the terms of any visa; or
  • been deported from any country.

If you haven’t had any of these problems the likelihood of being declined permission or turned around is very low.

[1] Excluding New Zealanders and Australians


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