Roy Chowdhury has been planning for years to bring family members from around the world for a Christmas reunion - their first in 15 years - here in New Zealand.

But despite having lodged applications months ahead, some in the family will not be getting their visas in time for Christmas.

Immigration New Zealand says it is struggling to cope with a surge in visa applications and enquiries, and this has crushed many Kiwi family Christmas reunion dreams.

"This is supposed to be a watershed moment for me and my family who have been eagerly waiting for this reunion for months," said Chowdhury, 42, of West Auckland.

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Four family members had planned to travel here from America, Canada and India, but only three managed to get their visas on time.

His younger sister and her son from Toronto were issued visas but her India-based partner did not get his despite having lodged his visa application in October.

"My sister and my nephew are absolutely heartbroken that his dad cannot join us," said Chowdhury, a managing director of a data consultancy company Datapoints.

"Days away from Christmas ... we are sitting here with a heavy heart. It feels like we lost all energy to even plan for Christmas as a result of this tremendous letdown by Immigration New Zealand."

Other than the heartbreak, Chowdhury said the family will also suffer "significant money loss" as most of the domestic flights, accommodation and activities had been prepaid.

"INZ's response that this is a busy time as a result they cannot process the applications on time is simply not good enough," he added.

The number of calls and emails received by INZ last month hit 174,985, which is a 44 per cent increase from 121,785 over the same time last year and callers are being made to wait between one and two hours to talk to its call centre staff.

Another frustrated Aucklander contacted the Herald after her four family members from India failed to get visas after a two-month wait.

She has not been able to reach anyone at the agency, and said the family could lose close to $10,000 in flight tickets and hotel accommodation which they have prepaid.

Another Kiwi couple say their hopes of sponsoring some relatives over for a Christmas visit are dashed after they failed to get visas despite lodging their application more than two months ago.

Immigration New Zealand said it was currently experiencing high volumes of visa applications and calls to its contact centres, which has resulted in unusually high wait times.

"We apologise for the delays and understand this can be difficult for applicants," the agency's assistant general manager Karen Bishop said.

"While an increase in call volumes was anticipated, it has taken us longer than expected to recruit additional contact centre staff."

Bishop said there are currently 20 new staff under training.

"Due to the high volumes currently being received, we strongly recommend applicants submit their applications as early as possible prior to their intended travel date," Bishop said.

"As is usual for this time of year, visitor visa processing times may be longer given this is peak summer season."

About three in four visitor visas are approved within 18 days, and those that take longer required additional information, verification or translations.

"We cannot prioritise visa applications even if applicants have already purchased travel," Bishop added.

She encouraged applicants to apply using the Immigration Online system via the INZ website, where they could upload supporting documents, photographs and pay for their application themselves.

However, a Chinese applicant who used the system to get a visa for her mother said she still hasn't heard back from INZ after nearly two months.

"All the information just seem to disappear into a dark hole along with our application form," she said.

"The it becomes mission impossible to find someone at INZ to ask what's happening."

One applicant said she was put on hold for more than four hours when she called INZ on one occasion, before finally giving up.

Most of those who spoke to the Herald did not want to be identified, fearing it could jeopardise their applications.

New Zealand Association for Migration and Investment chair June Ranson said the current situation was "disappointing".

However, Ranson said INZ was not solely to blame.

"There would not need (to be) so many calls if applicants provided correct information and allowed sufficient planning time," Ranson said.

"People need to understand that overseas travel to NZ needs planning well in advance, it is not like catching a bus."