The Government is ring-fencing more than 400 spots in managed isolation for businesspeople, Government staff and performers to attend a major expo in Dubai from October.
A total of 401 rooms will be filled by returnees from Expo 2020 Dubai between October this year and March next year.
It comes as some returning Kiwis are forking out thousands of dollars to secure available MIQ rooms, which can be snapped up by tech-savvy travellers with the resources to 'game' the system.
And other Kiwis have spoken out at their fury and upset about not being able to secure a room to be home in time for Christmas, or to visit terminally ill relatives.
Act Party leader David Seymour likened the move to Government favouritism, which disadvantaged average New Zealanders.
"There's no way you can explain that it's fair the needs of someone going to Expo 2020 are more than the needs of someone who hasn't seen their kid in a year," he said.
"Why should they not have the same level of importance?"
Expo 2020 Dubai has been designated as a major event by the Government after it provided $62 million for attending the event including building a new pavilion.
About 600 representatives from private sponsors including Fonterra, NZ Trade and Enterprise staff and performers and entertainers will be in Dubai as part of the New Zealand representation.
But not all of them are travelling from New Zealand and will need an MIQ spot on their return.
A Managed Isolation and Quarantine spokesperson said the 401 rooms were included in a fortnightly allocation by the Border Exception Ministerial Group, and were given to "large and complex groups that are considered a Government priority".
Between 350 and 500 rooms were available per fortnight for such groups. Members of the ministerial group which granted approval included ministers Kris Faafoi, Chris Hipkins, Megan Woods, Carmel Sepuloni, Stuart Nash and Willie Jackson.
Eligibility criteria for these rooms include having a sponsoring agency, requiring more than 20 rooms and if their return is time-sensitive.
Of the 401 returnees, 152 would arrive in October and November - a critical time for Kiwis hoping to return ahead of Christmas.
No Expo 2020 returnees would come back in December. MIQ rooms for that month were not currently open for public booking.
This week, Wellington man Jonathan Brewer told the NZ Herald he had been stuck in Singapore since March 2020, and was trying to get home by Christmas.
He said he had laid a complaint last month with the Government's top watchdog, saying the MIQ booking site is simply not usable for those who play within the rules.
"I don't think it's possible to get a spot unless you use a bot or pay someone to do it for you. [The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment] seems to think otherwise. So I've escalated to the Ombudsman."
Trade and Export Growth Minister Damien O'Connor defended the decision, saying: "We have always been clear we will set aside MIQ spaces to support our economic recovery."
He referenced the event's estimated economic benefit of $313m, an estimate made prior to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Seymour believed the estimate carried little substance and instead, the Government should be prioritising Kiwis who were hindered by the current MIQ system.
"We've got businesses looking at closing their doors because they can't get skilled operators working, we've got people unable to visit dying relatives because MIQ is booked up until December - that's the kind of situations the people are in."
Michael Fox, external relations director of Kiwifruit company Zespri, confirmed no New Zealand-based staff would attend the event and would not require spaces in MIQ.
Fox said staff already in the region would be in attendance.
New Zealand Trade and Enterprise has a whole team on the ground for the event and is working with Expo 2020 for its business leveraging programme being held early next year.
The aim of the programme is to help New Zealand businesses connect with important global business networks throughout Expo 2020 Dubai and improve understandings of key Middle East markets, according to NZTE's website.
The New Zealand pavilion is located in the Sustainability District of the Expo 2020 site.
The event runs from October 2021 to March 2022 with the majority of the business leveraging programme due to be held early in the new year. About 190 countries are expected to attend.
Speaking about the event in March, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the expo was designed to be a launching pad for countries into international markets and would showcase what was unique about New Zealand.
She said there is expected to be a mix of online engagement for Expo 2020 and the timing of the event meant New Zealand would be in a better position to take part.
The Government had also expected a large number of New Zealanders to have been vaccinated by the time the event started.
The original budget for the event had risen by about $9m due to the event being delayed by a year due to Covid. The majority of the spend has been on the building.
Sponsors of New Zealand at Expo 2020 are Fonterra, Comvita, Kaynemaile, Zespri, Mr Apple, Shadowspec, Abodo, Air New Zealand, Caroma, Città, David Trubridge, Gallagher, Method, Methven, Moffat, noho, Resident, Scion, Skope, Tim Webber Design and Toitū Envirocare.
Choreographer Parris Goebel will curate New Zealand's entertainment and cultural programme for Expo 2020, while Six60 will be the headline act and is expected to play for more than a week.