A woman is stuck in East Africa after being caught in transit just before the border closures and has been denied an exemption to return to be reunited with her fiance.
Shuchi Bhardwaj, 25, who holds an open work visa, has been fighting for nearly two months to come back and says the Government's closing of borders had not taken into consideration people who had to transit on their journey home.
The New Zealand border is currently closed to all but New Zealand citizens and residents.
"This entire process with exemptions and the government officials has not only been heartbreaking but cruel and unfair as well," Bhardwaj said.
She had been living in New Zealand since 2016 and holds a visa that is valid until 2021.
Bhardwaj left for Tanzania on February 29 to visit her parents who live there. When the borders closed on March 19, she was in transit in Dubai and was stopped from boarding her return flight to New Zealand.
• Covid 19 coronavirus: Virus-positive traveller jailed after refusing medical examination
• Covid 19 coronavirus: Jacinda Ardern on alert level 2 plans and latest case numbers
• Covid 19 coronavirus: How vaccine could be manufactured in NZ
• Covid-19 coronavirus: Government facing 'one hell of a fiscal repair job' MPs told by top economist
"When the border closures were announced, it didn't consider passengers like me who take roughly 32 hours to travel back with transit," she said.
Bhardwaj, who holds Indian citizenship, was then allowed to return to Tanzania on a temporary visitor visa.
"Currently, I'm stranded in Tanzania, my visa here ends in two weeks and I don't know what to do once that happens," she said.
"The local government has ordered to clear all tourists already and began shutting down hotels, which makes me fear for my situation here."
Despite here Indian citizenship, Bhardwaj said she had never lived in India nor did she have any family or friends there.
"My parents moved to Tanzania when I was born and they have been working here since," she said.
"After Tanzania, I moved to the UK for my university and then straight after to NZ."
Bhardwaj said she shared an apartment in Auckland with her fiancé which they are still paying rent for and fears she could lose her job too if she can't return.
"Due to all of this, my fiancé has developed severe anxiety and depression. He has always been healthy but being isolated and alone during the lockdown and not having me as a support along with the uncertainty of when I can return has caused him damage," she said.
Her fiance, who Bhardwaj didn't name, is an engineer but has not returned to work because of his anxiety and depression.
"It's heartbreaking and extremely stressful for me to see him like that and not being there to help and support him," Bhardwaj said.
"This whole situation has been extremely strenuous on both of us all mentally, emotionally and financially."
Bhardwaj believed that being a partner of a work visa holder and holding a valid visa herself, she qualified for an exemption but has struggled to get in touch with the authorities.
"I have always called NZ my home and now being treated this way I feel like a refugee," she said.
"I don't know where to go and no one seems to care about my case. I thought exemptions were put in place to help people like me but apparently, that isn't the case."
An INZ spokeswoman confirmed Bhardwaj had requested an exception to the border restrictions under the 'New Zealand-based partner of a work or student visa holder who is in New Zealand' exception on April 16 - but was not granted one.
"While Ms Bhardwaj's request stated she has been in a relationship with a temporary visa holder for 12 months, INZ has no record of this relationship being in existence prior to her departing NZ," the spokeswoman said.
She made another request for an exception to the border restrictions based on humanitarian grounds on May 12, but this was also not granted.
"To be granted an exception under these criteria, the person needs to have exceptional circumstances of a humanitarian nature. Ms Bhardwaj's situation did not meet these requirements," the spokeswoman said.
There were just a limited number of exceptions for travellers, but they needed to seek INZ's approval before travelling.
This includes partners, dependent children, and legal guardians of citizens and residents, and Australian citizens and permanent residents who normally live in New Zealand.
Exceptions may also be granted where people have a critical purpose for travel to New Zealand, including essential health workers, Samoan and Tongan citizens making essential travel, NZ-based partners and dependent children of a work or student visa holder and critical humanitarian reasons.
"The bar for being granted an exception to the border restrictions is set high to help stop the spread of Covid-19 and protect the health of people already in NZ," the spokeswoman added.
Since the border exceptions process was put in place, INZ has received more than 7500 requests for a border exception. Around 1580 of those requests have resulted in an "Invitation to Apply" being issued.