As Warren and Lisa Blunden flew out of New Zealand late last year, they knew their family's lives were about to change forever.

What they didn't count on was life around the globe also being upended.

The South African couple had just visited and fallen in love with New Zealand - now they planned a permanent move.

An experienced plumber, Warren Blunden quickly found a job in Tauranga and secured a work visa.

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Tyrell and Skyler on what was supposed to be their last day of school in South Africa. Photo / Supplied
Tyrell and Skyler on what was supposed to be their last day of school in South Africa. Photo / Supplied

He then signed the family to a Tauranga rental property beginning on March 20 this year, before buying a $55,000 Ford Ranger along with almost $5000 of plumbing tools.

Next, the family wound up their old lives in South Africa, selling their house, cars and plumbing business and packing their belongings into a six-metre container that shipped in early March.

They also transferred 80 per cent of their savings to New Zealand and pulled their kids from school.

But while the family waited in Johannesburg for visas for Lisa, Tyrell, 7, and Skyler, 4, before their planned flight to New Zealand on March 30, the world went into Covid-19 meltdown and borders closed.

The shocked family were suddenly locked out of New Zealand and launched onto an "emotional roller coaster" that has no end in sight.

"Our whole life is in New Zealand. We are left with nothing in South Africa," Blunden told the Herald on Sunday.

The family are now among the many thousands of overseas work visa holders appealing for exemptions to be let into the country.

Warren and Lisa Blunden in Auckland during a visit to New Zealand to see if they should move here or not. They fell in love with the place. Photo / Supplied
Warren and Lisa Blunden in Auckland during a visit to New Zealand to see if they should move here or not. They fell in love with the place. Photo / Supplied

Some have been let in from foreign shores, like film crews working on sequels to Hollywood movie Avatar, America's Cup crews and forensic pathologist Dr Judy Melinek, who landed in the country last week.

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But as thousands of Kiwi citizens and residents also return home and the Covid-19 pandemic infects more people than ever around the world, Immigration NZ officials are keeping the borders shut.

An Immigration NZ letter to the Blundens told them their case wasn't exceptional given the large numbers of other work visa holders trying to enter the country.

Authorities said priority was given to applicants whose families were apart in different countries.

Warren, Lisa, Skyler, 4, and Tyrell, 7, Blunden have shipped their belongings to New Zealand and paid for a car, house and tools here. Only problem is they aren't allowed in. Photo / Supplied
Warren, Lisa, Skyler, 4, and Tyrell, 7, Blunden have shipped their belongings to New Zealand and paid for a car, house and tools here. Only problem is they aren't allowed in. Photo / Supplied

Blunden said he understood the pressures the Government faced but appealed for a timeline for when or if work visa holders would be allowed back.

The uncertainty was putting "extreme stress" on his family, he said.

Their future and the tens of thousands of dollars spent committing to fresh lives in New Zealand hinged on Warren's work visa.

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His Tauranga employer had agreed to wait a few weeks, but could not keep the job vacant and waiting for too long, Warren said.

The Blunden family packing up their belongings in Johannesburg. Photo / Supplied
The Blunden family packing up their belongings in Johannesburg. Photo / Supplied

In the meantime, the family were paying $630 a week on their Tauranga rental and $500 keeping their belongings in storage in New Zealand.

Blunden's Ford Ranger and tools were sitting idle waiting for him in the stores he bought them from.

Back in South Africa, the family were now also paying rent on a one-bedroom flat and weren't sure if they should pay to put their children back into school.

The mounting South African costs meant they were being forced pull some of their savings back from New Zealand.

The Blunden family sold up their business in South Africa ahead of a move to New Zealand. Photo / Supplied
The Blunden family sold up their business in South Africa ahead of a move to New Zealand. Photo / Supplied

"How long can we go on paying these fees not knowing if we going to be able to enter the country, or will the job [in Tauranga] still be available?" Blunden said.

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If the job goes, "the whole plan falls through and we lose thousands".