New Zealand nurse Peta Cooke was on track to starting her new life with her childhood sweetheart Cameron Read, and was thrilled when his visa application was finally assigned a case officer on March 25.

A day later, things started crumbling when the Covid-19 lockdown came into effect and Immigration NZ stopped processing all visas, putting Cooke's dream of being reunited with the love of her life in limbo.

Now the 26-year-old is joining hundreds of other New Zealanders with partners stranded overseas because of the coronavirus rules, appealing to the Government to let their partners in.

Under current rules, partners of New Zealanders must be travelling with their citizen or resident spouse or partner to be able to enter New Zealand.

Couple Cameron Read and Peta Cooke are being kept apart because of Covid-19 border rules. Photo / Supplied
Couple Cameron Read and Peta Cooke are being kept apart because of Covid-19 border rules. Photo / Supplied

Cooke, 26, is a registered nurse, is originally from South Africa, but has lived in Auckland since she was 8 and holds a New Zealand citizenship.

In 2018, during her OE, she reconnected with Read, 26, whom she has known since they were 12 when she made a visit back to South Africa to see her father.

"On meeting up again we started a serious relationship. We were always very interested in one another and still have messages between us as far back as 2009," she said.

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"At this point if reconnecting, I already had committed to a nanny position in London so we did six months long distance. But during my time in London, Cameron came to visit me for two weeks."

In June last year, she went to South Africa to live temporarily with Cameron - with the intention of them moving to live permanently in New Zealand as soon as they could.

They applied for a partner of a New Zealander work visa for Read, a primary school teacher.

Last year, for financial reasons, Cooke had to fly back to NZ to continue working in her nursing job.

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Cooke was over the moon when Read proposed and they got engaged in February. Their plans were to get married next year when they are more settled in New Zealand.

"We were happy when we got assigned a case officer for our application, but the day after that the lockdown began," she said.

"Since then, there has been very little clarity or information from INZ. It is causing a huge emotional strain on us.

"I am at the point where I have had to get medical assistance as I have just been completely overwhelmed and distressed about the uncertainty of when I will be able to see the love of my life again."

She said it was "absolutely terrifying" not knowing if Read could ever come into NZ.

Cooke said she was told by INZ during a phone call that if she wanted to see Read again, she should go back to South Africa.


"This was obviously very upsetting to hear," she added.

Cooke has started a Facebook group that now has more than 160 migrant couples who are facing a similar plight.

The group has written an open letter to the Government, praising it for the "fantastic job" at fighting the Covid-19 pandemic but also appealing for it to let their partners in.

"We are Kiwis in our home country, currently finding ourselves facing life in New Zealand without our families," they said in the letter.

"Our families are stranded around the world, being denied entry into our home, to be part of our bubble."

Nicola Hogg, INZ's border and visa operations general manager ,said the agency understood the impact Covid-19 had had on some migrants and their loved ones.


"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," she said.

"All requests for a border exception are considered on a case-by-case basis against the strict border exception criteria put in place by the Government. INZ has no ability to apply discretion when considering requests against the border criteria."

Hogg confirmed the agency currently had a partnership work visa application from Read.

"Mr Read's application has not yet been processed as INZ is not currently processing any applications from people who are offshore unless they meet the strict criteria to be granted an exception to the border closure," she said.

"The EOI system is not designed for the assessment of first-time partnership applications."

Hogg said Read requested an exemption to the border restrictions but was not granted one.


"As Mr Read's fiancee is already in New Zealand, he would not be travelling with her and therefore is subject to the border restrictions," she said.

The border is currently closed to all but New Zealand citizens and residents, with a limited number of exceptions.

Any decision about when to lift the border restrictions would be made by the Government, Hogg said.