European "poo pipe" engineers, a chair lift expert and Avatar film crew are among the foreigners granted border exemptions.

Economic Development Minister Phil Twyford said today he'd personally signed off 22 applications amounting to 154 people for the special exemption.

Yesterday, he said it was "a couple of hundred" people who'd been allowed in through the "other essential worker category".

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The Herald revealed yesterday among those was an Oscar-winning producer and film crew so production of the blockbuster Avatar sequels could resume.

Twyford, who was delegated the job to sign off the special exemptions a month ago, this afternoon gave more details about who else has been allowed in.

One was a specialist to install a new chair lift so the ski field could open this winter and another was an electrical engineer to do time-critical maintenance at a power plant.

Director general of health Ashley Bloomfield said he'd signed off "a handful" of applications for people with key specific skills and exemptions for commercial reasons went to Twyford.

"Including some engineers from Europe who came to fix the so-called poo-pipe here in Wellington and one who's here to fix repair some of the X-ray machines around the country," Bloomfield said.

Just before Christmas a wastewater pipe collapsed under Willis and Dixon Sts, necessitating the diversion of up to 100 litres of waste a second into the harbour.

Concept art for the new Avatar series filming in New Zealand. Photo / Supplied
Concept art for the new Avatar series filming in New Zealand. Photo / Supplied

Twyford said applicants for the "other essential worker" category had to meet three criteria: that they had a skill which couldn't be filled in New Zealand, the project was of significant economic value and time-critical.

The companies that put forward applications under the "other essential worker" category pay the costs of quarantine and managed isolation, Twyford said.


He once again disagreed the exemptions were kept a secret.

"It's not a secret, there's nothing new here. The border closed when New Zealand went into lockdown and there have been a number of exemptions operating since that time.

"People with residents visas who stranded outside the country and their families coming back into New Zealand, people allowed to come back in for humanitarian reasons, essential health workers and the other essential workers."

Avatar producer Jon Landau said they were bringing a small, essential crew back to New Zealand so production could resume on the epic blockbusters after being shut down over lockdown.

He confirmed they would be going into the 14 managed isolation or quarantine.

Landau told RNZ said the film industry spending was diverse, from catering for 400 people a day to stationary supplies.

"So we're not just spending in one area, our sets require lumber, all of those things.

"So the economics of any film coming into a community are quite strong in that the dollar spent circulates in that community because of the diversity of spending for quite some time."

Landau said he felt the crew was "coming back to the safest place in the world" and they had a "very thoughtful, detailed and diligent safety plan that will keep everybody as safe as possible".

Meanwhile, Auckland's mayor is calling on the Government to loosen border restrictions and allow the city's economy to welcome billions in spending from the likes of international students.

"Reopen Auckland" is the central plea to the Government in a joint submission being prepared by the city's council and education sector.

Mayor Phil Goff says he wants Auckland to be a prototype for a quarantine process that would safely allow high-value students to come to New Zealand for their education.