Dreams of many Skilled Migrant Category work visa holders of migrating to New Zealand were dashed by the border closures due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Figures revealed to the Herald by Immigration New Zealand showed that 109 people on the visas for people with skills that will contribute to NZ's economic growth had expired while offshore.
Just 22 of those who had the work visa before February 29, 2020, have been given new visas or visa extensions. The agency noted that those who were granted subsequent visas may be currently holding a different visa.
Ervin Fernandez, an IT specialist from the Philippines, was one of those granted a visa but could not come because the border closed - and is now told he won't be offered an extension.
Nicola Hogg, INZ's general manager border and visa operations, said the agency understood the huge impact that the Covid-19 pandemic has had on would-be migrants who have had their plans disrupted and were unable to travel to NZ due to the border restrictions.
"We acknowledge the situation Ervin Fernandez finds himself in," Hogg said.
"Now that New Zealand's border is open, we are working to reconnect New Zealand and process visas as fast as possible."
Hogg confirmed Fernandez applied for New Zealand residence under the Skilled Migrant Category in 2018.
"As part of the application process, we followed up with Ervin on a number of occasions for additional information, including medical evidence, needed to complete the assessment of his applications," she said.
He was invited to apply for a Job Search Visa in October 2019, which would allow him to come to NZ to look for a job for 12 months, which if successful would enable him to meet requirements for residency.
Ervin was issued a job search visa which was valid from January 24, 2020, to January 24, 2021.
"Unfortunately, Ervin did not travel to New Zealand prior to the border closing at the end of March 2020 and therefore he was impacted by the New Zealand Government's border restrictions and was unable to travel here while the border restrictions were in place," Hogg said.
Maricel Weischede, an immigration lawyer acting for Fernandez, said he had been told the visa would not be renewed and that it was "absurd" that INZ was putting the blame on him for not meeting visa requirements by travelling here.
"How could he have done it when there are no flights and the borders are closed," Weischede said.
"This is most absurd, and I'm sure INZ themselves know how ridiculous it is to be putting the blame on Ervin."
Weischede said Fernandez was on the verge of having his residence visa application declined because of his inability to satisfy the settlement and contribution requirement.
"He applied in 2018 offshore, being in IT. The application took almost two years to process," she said.
"He was supposed to be flying to Auckland in May 2020 as he needs to tender his resignation from his workplace. However, with the border being closed from March 2020, he was unable and hence, his work visa expired."
Weischede said Fernandez was then given a potentially prejudicial information letter on August August 14, 2022, stating that he did not demonstrate that he can obtain an offer of skilled employment in New Zealand within 12 months period of the SMC Job Search Visa immigration instruction.
"With the border closure and visa expiring prior to the border opening, it meant that the applicant was not able to do such. He inquired previously if there is a way they can extend his visa. INZ said there was no policy as such," Weischede said.
"As a result, INZ is saying that his SMC residence would be declined."
Weischede said the decision was unfair.
"Ervin, in anticipation of migrating to NZ missed out on many opportunities - new job offer in the Philippines, promotion, and depended their life decision based on the premise that they will be migrating to NZ," she said.
"He waited for two years for the processing of his SMC application. He was granted but unable to. INZ said there is no visa available for anyone in this situation."
But Hogg said INZ understands that Fernandez continues to want to move to New Zealand, and was currently finalising the next steps for him.
"His current SMC application is still open and we have reached out to Ervin to discuss his options," Hogg added.
Fernandez has written to the Immigration Minister requesting special direction.
"The last two years I waited patiently, hoping that somehow New Zealand would understand the plight of the people who held a visa but cannot travel to the country due to the restrictions ... honestly, I've felt hopeless," he wrote.
"I felt let down by INZ, by New Zealand, and your office who have left me and other applicants. I find ... I had been conned."