Christine and Shaw Dods-Brooks will have to wait even longer to meet their grandchildren after a new visa requirement for South Africans ruined their Christmas plans.

The retired Northland couple had been planning a family reunion at Christmas time with their son and his two children, Sam, 11, and Taya, 9, and their other grandchildren who also live in Whangarei, for two years.

The couple, who are originally from Zimbabwe but have lived in New Zealand for 15 years, booked a bach in Matata so they could all be together for the first time ever and Sam and Taya could also spend time with their twin cousins.

But a change in visa requirements for people travelling on South African passports meant their grandchildren would not be able to come.

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Immigration NZ announced a new rule in October requiring South Africans to have a visitor visa to enter New Zealand from 21 November.

Yesterday the Herald told how the change had meant Adriaan Visagie's grandparents could not visit him from South Africa for Christmas as the required visas would not be processed in time. Immigration NZ said it was liaising with its London agency about this case.

However Immigration NZ area manager Darren Calder told the Herald he was not aware of a large number of complaints, although would not provide numbers of how many had contacted the call centre.

"It is difficult to comment on people's plans and how they may or may not have been affected by the need to apply for a visa."

Immigration NZ also denied claims the change had been poorly publicised, saying it had been communicated via media, email, Tourism NZ, airlines and booking agents. Additional staff were also employed to process applications.

However Christine Dods-Brooks disagreed and said people needed to be given more warning.

Her son Paul, who is a pilot, first learnt of the new requirements for South African passport holders when he went to book tickets for himself, his Canadian wife and his two children who live in Zimbabwe but have South African passports.

Paul is a pilot for a Chinese airline so left it until early November to book the flights once his leave had been approved.

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This gave him three weeks to arrange visas and it would have required his ex-wife, who his children live with in Zimbabwe, to send their passports to Pretoria in South Africa, which was the closest New Zealand Embassy.

"As he said to me when he talked, he said 'you know the chances of us getting this is very slight. And the chances of us never seeing their passports again is a possibility.' So he really felt he didn't want to do that."

She also contacted Immigration NZ to double check the rules and was told they had been inundated by inquiries.

Dods-Brooks said like them, her grandchildren were devastated that the long-awaited trip had been cancelled and instead they were all counting down until August when they would meet at a family wedding in Canada.

"They were horrified. They were so looking forward to it."

Their father was now taking them to Mauritius for Christmas since New Zealand was no longer an option.

Dods-Brooks said they spoke to their grandchildren on Skype, but it wasn't the same. "They are always just a little bit shy because they don't really know us. It's horrible."