Children unlawfully in NZ

A good education is part of Kiwi life and children usually go to school between the ages of 5 and 19. By law children between the ages of 6 and 16 must go to school. Parents and/or carers of a child living unlawfully in New Zealand can apply for their children to go to school as a New Zealand student.

This section looks at:

Can my child go to school as a New Zealand student if they are unlawfully here?

If your child has been living here unlawfully for over 6 months you can apply for them to go to a state or state-integrated school as a domestic student. You have to apply to the Ministry of Education. The school you want your child to go to can help you apply if you feel more comfortable with that.

What does being in New Zealand unlawfully mean?

It means your child is not a New Zealand citizen and is either not holding a current visa of any type, or was born in New Zealand on or after 1 January 2006 and is not a New Zealand citizen by birth.

Is my child eligible?

The criteria to be eligible is very specific.  In summary, your child may be eligible if they:

  • are 5 to 19 years old
  • are unlawfully in New Zealand, they do not hold a visa to be here
  • have been living continuously in New Zealand with a parent or legal guardian for over 6 months
  • have never enrolled in a New Zealand school or has most recently been enrolled as a domestic student.

There is more detail about these criteria on the Ministry’s education website. You can also talk to your school about whether you meet all the specific criteria.

How do I apply?

It can be daunting applying to the Ministry of Education, and you may be nervous about sharing your immigration status. The information you provide is confidential and will only be used by the Ministry of Education to process your child’s application.  It is not shared with any other government agency.

The school you want your child to attend can help you with your application.  Staff at your local Ministry of Education office can also help you. This help is free.

If you have more than one child you will need to complete a separate application for each child.

Here’s how to apply:

  1. get a printed copy of the application form.  You can download it from this page, the school can give you one, or you can get one from your local Ministry of Education office
  2. complete the application form and attach all the supporting information. You can get your school to help you with this.
  3. submit your application to the Ministry of Education either by:
    • giving it to your school who will send it onto the Ministry for you
    • sending it to your local Ministry of Education office
  4. the Ministry will process your application and send you a letter telling you whether you have been successful or not. This usually takes about 4 weeks.

If the application is approved

Once approved your child must be enrolled in and attend school, and follow all the normal school rules for attendance.

The approval is until:

  • the expiry date on the Ministry’s letter of approval
  • your child leaves New Zealand, or
  • on the 1st of January after your child’s 19th birthday

The approval doesn’t change your or your family’s immigration status.

If the application is declined

Your child may be able to enrol as a fee-paying international student at a school which is a signatory to the Code of Practice for the Pastoral Care of International Students.

How do I choose and enrol my child in a NZ school?

You may have the option of one local school to go to.  If you live in a larger town or city you might have more options.

You can check out what schools are available in your area by searching the Ministry’s find a school tool. Talk to the principal of the school you’re interested in enrolling at about whether you are able to enrol. Some schools can only accept students that live in their enrolment zone.

If you need more help, you can contact your local Ministry of Education office.

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