An 80-year-old South Korean great-grandmother is being deported because Immigration New Zealand says she is too sick to be visiting her daughter in Lower Hutt.

Her upset daughter has called the agency's treatment of her mother "cruel" and "inhumane".

Suk Jang Chang, now an American permanent resident, was detained overnight at Auckland Airport when she arrived from Hawaii last Saturday, September 29.

Chang was stopped from taking a connecting flight to Wellington, and was told she did not have an acceptable standard of health to be allowed into New Zealand - despite having medical insurance for the trip.

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Despite being a visa waiver traveller, national border manager Stephanie Greathead said Chang did not meet the conditions for entry to New Zealand.

"She did not hold an outward ticket to depart New Zealand and INZ held information to suggest that she was not of an acceptable standard of health for temporary entry," Greathead said.

She was refused entry, but was released on residence and reporting conditions to stay with her daughter while she awaits her departing flight on October 6.

Rachel Yim-Pritchard says her 80-year-old mother, Suk Jang Chang, was shaken by her airport ordeal. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Rachel Yim-Pritchard says her 80-year-old mother, Suk Jang Chang, was shaken by her airport ordeal. Photo / Mark Mitchell

This was the third time Chang had come to New Zealand, the first was in October 2010 and the second in May 2013. Normally she would have been allowed to stay up to three months.

"Ms Chang had incurred a debt with New Zealand DHB on her last trip to New Zealand and the airline had medically assisted her travel to New Zealand," Greathead added.

"Our records show...she has pre-existing health conditions likely to require ongoing medical attention."

Chang's daughter Rachel Haekyung Yim-Pritchard, 53, slammed INZ's treatment of her mother as "cruel" and "inhumane".

"I drove as fast as I could to Auckland, I was in total shock when I got the call saying my mother has been detained at the airport," Yim-Pritchard said.

Yim-Pritchard said her mother was visibly shaken after her ordeal at the airport.

Chang, who spoke little English, had been held in a room with strangers for 15 hours, Yim-Pritchard claimed.

"My mother has hypertension, heart disease, back problems and osteoporosis, and was close to fainting," she said.

"Yes, she's not in top health, but she was assessed by medical professionals in the US stating it was safe enough for her to travel."

Yim-Pritchard said the debt incurred by her mother on her last visit at Lower Hutt DHB had been paid back, and she had medical insurance for this trip.

A few years ago, she lodged an expression of interest to get a residence visa for her mother under the parent category.

But the category, which was a pathway for migrants to be reunited with their parents in New Zealand, was closed in 2016.

Yim-Pritchard said stopping people with health issues to come as visitors meant it was "impossible" for some migrants to ever see their parents again.

"My mother is already 80, I do not know how many more years she has left. This is likely her last visit," Yim-Pritchard said.

"She does not want to live in NZ permanently, but just want to spend time with her step-great grandchildren and other family here."

She said because of cost and logistics, it would be near impossible to bring the entire family to visit her mother overseas.

Yim-Pritchard has two grandchildren, aged 4 and 5, who she says love and get along really well with Chang.

Greathead said there were certain conditions all visitors to New Zealand must meet to be eligible for entry, and this included being of good health and character.

She said it did not matter whether they held insurance or not.

"All non-New Zealanders coming to New Zealand must have an acceptable standard of health so as not to impose undue costs to New Zealand's public health system."

Last year, a 60-year-old Chinese mother was also denied a visitor's visa to visit her NZ resident son because she has Hepatitis B and C.