A Department of Conservation worker is frustrated that his partner has been left stranded in China after visa delays.
John Horrax, 41, has been separated from his long-term partner Candy Huang, 28, due to the global Covid-19 pandemic since January 15.
The couple applied to get Huang a Partner Residence Visa and a Partner Work Visa on January 28 this year.
But more than seven months later, neither of her visas has been processed and the couple claim they are stuck in queues that have not moved in months.
Horrax says the uncertainty has been devastating and wants Immigration New Zealand (INZ) to clarify just how long things could take.
"We thought it would be a couple of months [apart] and it's been six months so far. It's been very difficult," he said.
"Relationships – not our one – are inevitably going to break up over this. It's the uncertainty – not knowing how long this is going to take. If we had a timeframe – even if we were told it would be one year – at least we would know."
New Zealand citizen-Horrax met dental hygienist Huang in 2013 while teaching in China.
They moved in together the following year and have been co-habiting ever since.
Huang has even been granted two Partner Work Visas before – the last one in 2018, which took two months to process.
So when DoC offered Horrax a job back home in December, he hardly thought twice about returning to New Zealand ahead of Huang – thinking she could apply for a visa and follow in a few months.
"In the past we have had no issues," Horrax says.
They hoped the Partner Work Visa – which lasts for two years before it can be extended, or a Partner Residence Visa applied for - would go through quickly so she could get to New Zealand and they could resume their life.
But Horrax says her Partner Based Work visa has sat in a queue that hasn't moved since March.
Horrax fears they could be looking at another year before they hear anything.
"It's a tricky situation to be in - for a lot of families," says Horrax who is based in Haast, Westland.
INZ's website says there are a range of visas to help partners, dependent children and parents of New Zealand residents and visa holders join family here.
And Horrax believes they also met the current Covid-19 border exception criteria under the partner rules.
But despite the criteria as set out, "virtually no partners" of New Zealand citizens are being granted an exception.
"People are applying for these visas and basically every one are being declined or are sitting in queues. It just seems at odds with what is being said," he said.
"What's bizarre for me is that the criteria doesn't reflect the situation."
When he's phoned INZ for updates, he says staff are friendly but unable to provide specific information – only that their case hasn't yet been assigned.
While Horrax appreciates the coronavirus-related challenges facing the Government, he thinks applicants deserve more clarity and information.
"We should be presented with the facts by the Government, rather than them saying partners are allowed into the country when in fact they aren't," he says.
Most requests for a border exception, INZ says, are decided within two working days.
The government agency has dedicated "significant resources" to assessing border exception Expression of Interest (EOI) requests and subsequent visa applications from individuals who are invited to apply.
As of Sunday, INZ had received a total of 28,938 requests for a border exception - across all exception categories - since the process was put in place. Of them, 5961 have resulted in an Invitation to Apply being issued. Approximately 3000 were under the "partner or dependent of a New Zealand citizen or resident" exception.
Partners of New Zealand citizens or residents are exempt from border restrictions if travelling with their partner or if they hold a relationship-based visa.
In response to questions about Horrax and Huang's case, INZ says: "Since the border closure, INZ has not been processing visas for overseas applicants unless they meet the strict border exception criteria. This is because legally INZ is unable to grant visas to people who are unlikely to meet entry requirements."
A spokeswoman said: "INZ is aware that a large number of people have been affected by the border closure and that this has caused significant disruption to the lives of New Zealanders and their families.
"We acknowledge this is a difficult and challenging situation for these individuals and their families."
INZ says the border is the country's best protection in its fight against Covid-19, which is why it remains closed to all but New Zealand citizens and residents.
"Protecting public health is paramount and 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 New Zealand," the spokeswoman said.
"All individual requests for exceptions to the border restrictions are considered against the strict criteria set out in immigration instructions."