If Hollywood stars can enter New Zealand, why can't our dad?

That's what Tauranga twins Sophia and Michelle Toolen-Hemsley asked Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in heartfelt letters pleading with her to let him into the country.

The 10-year-old Kiwi citizens have now spent more than six months away from dad Richard Toolen, who is locked out of the country by the Covid-19 border closures - despite intervention from MP for Tauranga Simon Bridges.

"He's my superhero": Tauranga 10-year-old Sophia Toolen-Hemsley with her dad Richard Hemsley. Photo / Supplied

The girls lived in London with British and US passport-holding Toolen and mum Kiwi Donna Hemsley.

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The family had been in the very final stages of permanently moving to New Zealand when the pandemic hit in March.

They had put Sophia and Michelle into school in July last year in Tauranga.

Toolen stayed back in the UK to run the financial services company he owned in Switzerland.

The family then spent Christmas and January together in New Zealand before buying a home in Mt Maunganui.

Toolen flew back out to Europe to pack the rest of their belongings and ship it in a container to New Zealand.

Having always been able to fly in and out of New Zealand on a tourist visa, his plan was to start his residency visa application once living in the country.

Hemsley later flew to London to help Toolen finish up, landing on March 12.

Richard Toolen, Michelle Hemsley and their two daughters Sophia and Michelle spent seven years in London but were in the last stages of moving to New Zealand. Photo / Supplied
Richard Toolen, Michelle Hemsley and their two daughters Sophia and Michelle spent seven years in London but were in the last stages of moving to New Zealand. Photo / Supplied

But two days later, Ardern announced everyone returning to New Zealand would need to self-isolate for 14 days. Hemsley decided to return to self-isolate and take over care of the girls who were being looked after by their grandparents.

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Toolen finished loading the family's possessions by March 20 but by that time New Zealand's borders had closed to all but citizens and residents.

With no visa to enter New Zealand, the airlines wouldn't let him board his flight out of Europe. Had he flown earlier with his wife, he would have been allowed into New Zealand.

The couple quickly appealed to Bridges - leader of the Opposition at the time and MP for Tauranga - who - wrote a letter seeking a border exception for Richard.

Immigration NZ refused.

Richard with daughters Sophia and Michelle. Photo / Supplied
Richard with daughters Sophia and Michelle. Photo / Supplied

The twins each wrote a letter to Ardern about a month ago

"He's not a Hollywood movie star, but he's my superhero and we want him here," Sophia wrote.

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"Please let him in." Michelle wrote.

But the girls did not hear back. Ardern's office declined to comment on Toolen's predicament, with a spokeswoman saying it wouldn't be appropriate to comment on individual cases.

Letters written to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern by the twins.
Letters written to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern by the twins.

Nicola Hogg, INZ's general manager border and visa operations, said the bar for border exceptions had deliberately been set high to keep New Zealanders safe and stop the spread of Covid-19 into the country.

She said border exceptions could only be given to people who weren't Kiwi citizens if they ordinarily lived in New Zealand or had a relationship-based visa.

Toolen - a former Major in the US Marine Corps who has done charity work with veterans in the United Kingdom - has since applied for a New Zealand work visa and resident visa.

But Hoggs said that since the border closed, INZ had stopped looking at any new visa applications lodged by people outside New Zealand.

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The Government department was considering changing that stance and potentially "reopening processing of partnership and dependent child visa applications for offshore partners of New Zealand citizens and residents".

She gave no date for when that might happen.

Donna Hemsley and Richard Toolen after an event for armed service veterans. Photo / Supplied
Donna Hemsley and Richard Toolen after an event for armed service veterans. Photo / Supplied

Hemsley - who was due to celebrate her fifth wedding anniversary with Toolen on Saturday after marrying at the Mt Maunganui Surf Livesaving Club in 2015 - said that left her family in limbo.

She said her daughters were missing out on time with their dad at a crucial point in their lives, something that felt like an abuse of their human rights.

"Jacinda keeps on saying we're all about families," Donna said.

"But when my kids looked at the television and said why are all those film crew people allowed in and dad's not, it was a bit hard to explain there's one set of rules for some people and other rules for us," she said.

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Among those entering were film crews working on sequels to Hollywood film Avatar, America's Cup crew members, and US pathologist Judy Melinek and her family, who had never set foot in the country before.

As of August 4, Immigration NZ had received 29,587 requests from people who weren't Kiwi citizens or resident visa holders seeking special border exceptions to enter the country.

Just 5305 had been granted permission to enter.