Since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, international students have been blocked from returning to New Zealand for more than a year.
Two students, from China and Indonesia, here for their Master of Business Administration course at the Auckland of Institute of Studies (AIS) are among the first to be back.
Just seven students from the institution met the Government's criteria to return and remains optimistic for further approvals, AIS marketing director Allen Hsieh says.
Chinese national Donna Dong, 51, has been kept apart from her teenage son here her since she returned to her dying father in Harbin last September.
"I had to pinch myself when I stepped out of managed isolation and hugged my boy, just to make sure I wasn't just dreaming," Dong said.
"It has been the worst time in my life, especially after my father died and I don't know when or whether I can return to my son who has been living on his own in Auckland."
Dong, who came to NZ first as a language student in 2019 and started the MBA programme in February 2020, has just about three months to completion but had to return home due to the family emergency.
AIS was only allotted 7 of the 1250 spaces made available nationally for the first two cohorts of returnee students.
Hsieh said the institute has been contacting students since the Government announced early this year that there would be a border exception to allow some international students to return.
Those eligible must have been studying here in 2019 or 2020, and prove that they must be in the country to complete their degrees.
Another MBA student Verawati Lekok, 42, said it had been "extremely challenging" following the programme through distance learning from Indonesia.
"The time difference means I have to be up and online at 3am to follow the lectures, it was really taking a toll on me," she said.
Lekok, a mother to two sons age 3 and 10, said being able to come to New Zealand to finish her studies also made her feel "human again".
"Being on the irregular and odd hours was taking a toll on me, I feel like I couldn't function properly - not as a mom, and also not as a student," said Lekok, who is a tax consultant by profession.
Hsieh said the number of international students allowed to return was "minuscule" and the export education industry will continue to struggle.
Prior to the pandemic, AIS had over 1000 international students with 45 per cent of them in MBA programmes.
"We have given our allocation to students who are close to finishing their studies, the aim is just to help them rather than us making money," he said.
International students were first given the approval to return to finish their studies last month.
Earlier this month, 500 MIQ spaces a fortnight were allocated over the next 10 months for foreign arrivals to support NZ's economic recovery - with more international student spaces as part of the mix.
According to the Government's MIQ website, it cost $5520 for the first or only person in a room for MIQ spaces for temporary class visa holders.
A study by Australian-based education provider Navitas last year when the pandemic hit globally however showed New Zealand remained an attractive study destination to foreign applicants.
New Zealand came up top in a list of 63 countries as the most attractive study destination based on how Covid-19 has been handled, with the USA at the bottom.