As community transmission returns to New Zealand, a British citizen trapped outside of the country has opened up about the "demoralising" four months he has spent trying to return to his new Dunedin home.
Jason Baldwin left Dunedin for a planned two-week holiday to visit family on March 13, unaware he would not be able to return on his scheduled April 1 flight.
New Zealand's borders closed just six days after he departed.
Unable to access the wage subsidy scheme here, or the employment subsidy scheme in the United Kingdom, he has spent thousands of dollars trying to keep his life in New Zealand together and says the stress of his situation has led him to seek help and start taking medication for his mental health.
The 26-year-old spoke to the Otago Daily Times from Hertfordshire, United Kingdom, and said despite five unsuccessful requests for a border exception he had not given up hope on returning.
"I completely understand that there are probably a lot of other people in worse situations than myself. I understand there's probably families stuck in more remote places than me that may be considered as 'humanitarian' [cases] before me," Baldwin said.
"When I'm applying and pouring my heart out into an application, telling them all about my mental health, my financial situation, the fact I'm losing my job, I've lost all my stuff, my belongings, I'm literally just stuck on the other side of the world — you pour your heart out, you pour all your time into this situation and you just get an automatic reply in 24 hours saying it's been rejected.
"It's just frustrating and very demoralising."
When he left the country, Baldwin was the store manager at Dunedin's Kmart — a business which has since pulled out of Meridian Mall, in George St, without plans to relocate.
Baldwin had lived in New Zealand for almost three years, spending the first two in Auckland before relocating to Dunedin in November last year.
"My whole life was there — my friends, my job, my house, my car, all my belongings are still there right now."
After four months spent living on couches at friends' and families' homes, Baldwin said he was almost ready to hear, "Look, you're not coming back", because then at least he would have closure on the issue.
He had kept paying his bills, and about $6000 on a lease on a house he had now lost, all while "living in a country where we've got 1000 new cases a day and that's seen as a good achievement".
A spokeswoman for Immigration New Zealand said the bar for being granted an exception to the country's border restrictions was set high.
She confirmed Baldwin had made two requests for a border exception on April 6 and May 1 under the "other essential worker" criteria.
He then made a further three requests for a border exception under the humanitarian criteria.
None of the requests were granted.
By August 9, Immigration New Zealand had received about 31,200 requests for a border exception (across all exception categories) since the process was put in place.
Just 6350 of those requests had resulted in an Invitation to Apply being issued.
In total, 5868 applications had been approved, she said.