If you’re living with HIV, migrating to Aotearoa New Zealand may feel like a difficult process. If you know you are living with HIV and are on treatment, you might be wondering how your HIV status could affect your plans to move to or stay in Aotearoa New Zealand. Or you may have received an HIV diagnosis from the health check required as part of the moving process, and you are not sure what this means for your health or immigration plans.
This page has information and resources to help answer questions you may have and connect you to support.
If you were diagnosed with HIV during the process of applying for a visa to New Zealand, you may wonder what this means for your plans to immigrate, your health, and your future. Coming to terms with an HIV diagnosis can be challenging for anyone, and you have the additional stress of experiencing these changes while trying to secure a visa. Start by taking a deep breath and being gentle with yourself.
Living with HIV today means something far different from what it meant in the past. HIV is a treatable and manageable condition, and HIV is not the same thing as AIDS. Living with HIV will change your life in some ways, but with treatment you can expect to live for as long as someone not living with HIV and enjoy all the things in life you would otherwise. In New Zealand, HIV treatment, care, and support are available for free regardless of immigration status or eligibility for publicly funded healthcare.
Consider checking out our ‘so you’ve just been diagnosed with HIV’ page.
HIV and Immigration
It’s important for us to state that Burnett Foundation Aotearoa is not a registered immigration adviser, and we are not able to provide individual immigration advice. We recommend you contact Immigration New Zealand or a registered immigration adviser to discuss your situation.
In some cases, Burnett Foundation may be able to provide a letter supporting a visa applicant living with HIV. This letter would explain recent developments in treatments and remind that people living with HIV who maintain undetectable viral loads cannot transmit HIV sexually. You can request the letter by contacting our Policy team.
In October 2021, Immigration NZ removed HIV from the list of medical conditions “deemed to impose significant costs to public health services” that would automatically classify an individual as not meeting an acceptable standard of health for residence applications. With HIV now being removed from this list, Immigration NZ reviews the individual health circumstances of each visa applicant living with HIV on a case-by-case basis.
What does it mean for someone living with HIV who is applying for visa in New Zealand?
If you have been living with HIV for some time or were newly diagnosed as a part of your required medical check, you may expect Immigration NZ to follow up with you about this.
Be prepared to work with your doctor to answer any questions you may receive from Immigration NZ. You may want to contact a registered immigration adviser for help navigating this process – they will be able to give you advice. Remember to only use immigration advice from a registered provider – this may be a licensed immigration adviser or an NZ-registered lawyer.
If you are newly diagnosed with HIV, you should expect follow-up tests to confirm your status. Immigration NZ may request further medical information from you as part of the application process (read more about the health requirements here). Contact a registered immigration adviser for help navigating this process. It is important that you start treatment as soon as possible, as this is the best thing for your health at this time.
Treatment Options in New Zealand
In New Zealand, HIV treatment is available free of charge to all people living with HIV regardless of immigration status or publicly funded healthcare eligibility. There are very strong long-term health benefits of starting HIV treatment as soon as possible after a diagnosis.
In other words, if you have recently been diagnosed with HIV, the best thing you can do for your health is to start treatment right away. To access treatment in New Zealand, you must register with an HIV specialist – usually within your regional Te Whatu Ora (Health NZ) Infectious Diseases or Sexual Health clinic. In our major cities, these services would be:
- The Auckland Community HIV team consists of a nurse practitioner, three nurse specialists, and a social worker who provide free, confidential services to people living with HIV and can provide appropriate treatment for you.
- In the Wellington region, you can get HIV treatment from the Infection Services at Wellington Regional Hospital.
- In Christchurch, you can contact the Christchurch Sexual Health Service for treatment.
If you are unsure about how to access the service, contact the nearest clinic directly, and explain your situation. The clinic staff will be able to help you. These services may also be able to connect you to specialists in other parts of the country.
Doctors can use a combination of different drugs to stop HIV from replicating and protect your immune system. There are currently several classes of these drugs (called antiretrovirals), and they all work in different ways to control HIV. People usually take two or three medications belonging to at least two different classes, to make sure HIV doesn’t become resistant to any individual agent. You can read more about treatment here.
If you are already receiving treatment for HIV overseas, the same medications may not be available in New Zealand. In such cases, your local HIV specialist will talk you through the options that are available and advise what medication to use. If you have concerns about what this might mean for your immigration application, you can also raise it with a licensed immigration adviser.
It is important to start treatment quickly so you can reach what’s called an “undetectable viral load” as early as possible to be sure you stay in good health. You may have heard before about “Undetectable=Untransmittable” or “U=U.” Having an undetectable viral load (or UVL) means that the level of the virus in your blood is so low that a standard test used for this specific purpose cannot even measure it. This also means it is impossible to transmit HIV through sex. Becoming undetectable is a great way to protect your health, your sexual partners, empower yourself to overcome stigma, and reclaim control of your life. You can learn more about U=U here.
Whether you had already known you were living with HIV, or you have received an HIV diagnosis during this process, there are services and resources to support you. It can help to talk. If you feel comfortable, you can reach out to these free support services.
- Burnett Foundation Aotearoa offers free counselling to all people living with HIV regardless of immigration status or eligibility for publicly funded healthcare. It is a confidential service, and we are here to support you.
- Body Positive is an organisation founded and run by and for people with HIV and AIDS. They provide a broad range of services to break down the sense of isolation people living with HIV may experience and to build a sense of community and wellbeing. They offer a Peer Navigation programme for people living with HIV who were recently diagnosed and who are finding it hard to navigate social/health services; especially if you have additional social or health needs.
- Positive Women is a support organisation for women and families living with HIV and AIDS. They are also involved in HIV advocacy, awareness, and fighting HIV stigmatisation.
- Pamoja is an HIV prevention and support programme for and by Africans living in New Zealand. The programme provides support for people who are living with or affected by HIV by empowering the community in culturally appropriate ways.
Refugees and Asylum Seekers
For those who may be at risk in their home county and belong to rainbow communities, Rainbow Path offers support in seeking refugee status or asylum in NZ. This may be especially relevant where there is that risk of double stigma and violence due to sexuality or gender minority status and HIV status.
Refugees are usually screened for HIV before reaching New Zealand. If you receive a new HIV diagnosis through this screening, then you will likely start treatment before coming to New Zealand through the usual process in the country where you were diagnosed. Refugees with a known HIV diagnosis before their screening continue their usual treatment in their countries. Once it is decided that they will come to New Zealand, they are prioritized to be seen early by the health service during their resettlement.
Refugees entering New Zealand go through a 5-week reception programme at the Mangere Refugee Resettlement Centre. The Mangere Refugee Health Service coordinates with the Auckland Community HIV team to provide care to refugees living with HIV. Refugees who will be resettled in Auckland will have their first appointment during their 5-week reception. If the refugee will go to another resettlement location, the Auckland HIV team supports initial care and provides a referral for care at the resettlement location.