Dutch grandparents Annie and Harry Altmann say the uncertainty created by Immigration New Zealand's visa processing delay is adding to the stress of living with the Covid-19 pandemic.
Since the virus outbreak escalated in March, figures released to the Herald by INZ revealed 33,898 interim visas had been approved to people waiting for a decision on their visas.
Of those, 1272 will expire this month and, with no right of renewal or appeal, those applicants may end up becoming overstayers or unlawful in the country.
Caroline Plowman, daughter of Annie, 69, and Harry, 72, says she has been doing everything she can to ensure her parents remain lawfully in NZ.
"But the fact that INZ is simply suspending residency visa application processes is making this very difficult," she said.
Although her parents have been granted a visa extension, Plowman said the situation was still stressful.
"They can't access proper medical insurance in NZ, which is meant only for citizens and residents, and the fear of potentially being forced to fly back in a few months and to maybe never see their family down under again is unbearable," she said.
An INZ spokesman said all INZ offices were closed during alert level 4 and residence and work visa applications had to be put on hold.
When offices began opening under alert levels 3 and 2, INZ had to limit the number of staff returning to offices and this also impacted on the number of applications being worked on.
Of those who have been granted interim visas, 33,892 were through the general criteria and six from entrepreneur visa, which are valid for six months.
The spokesman said people could not be granted a second interim visa if no decision was made on their application by the time the interim visa expired.
"They will be unlawful and will need to make plans to leave New Zealand immediately," he said.
Plowman said she saw no reason why INZ should not be processing residency visas for people who are already in the country, which would enable them to support themselves and contribute to the economy.
Her parents arrived on a grandparent visitor visa in October last year, which was valid for three years but they cannot stay for more than six months at a time.
"When the pandemic started, we were very nervous about what to do as they would have to leave the country by early April," Plowman said.
But on March 25, it was announced that all temporary visa holders got an automatic extension until September 25.
The INZ spokeswoman said Plowman's parents currently had valid visitor visas which were given that extension.
"Visitor visas expiring before the end of October are being automatically extended by five months, from the date the visa expires," she said.
"This will allow them to remain in New Zealand lawfully. INZ is in the process of contacting people who are eligible for the extension."
Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi had announced earlier this week that those in the country with visitor visas due to expire before the end of October would have their visa automatically extended for five months.
There are an estimated 19,000 in New Zealand who hold visitor visas that will be eligible for the automatic extension.
"The whole ordeal is proving very stressful; my parents want certainty that they can stay here and not live month by month and unable to make plans for their retirement," Plowman said.
"You cannot leave people in this uncertainty. Yes of course they can book an expensive flight and return to the Netherlands, but that feels like committing suicide with the pandemic raging across the world and it might mean they never see their family again."
Education Minister Chris Hipkins announced today that school-age children from overseas who can't leave the country because of the pandemic can go to local schools as temporary domestic students for the rest of the year.
"A number of these young people are from the Pacific Islands, along with other nations, and were visiting family when the pandemic made it difficult or impossible to get flights back home," Hipkins said.
"These children will have missed out on, in many cases, months of learning. By allowing them to attend our state schools as domestic students, we are doing the right thing for these families so their children can get their studies and development back on track.
The exact number of children affected is not known, but it's expected the school roll could grow by up to 1300 students.