An American family were overjoyed to receive final confirmation that they are allowed to move to New Zealand — and the news came right on the day of the most controversial election in US history.
The Shelton family, from eastern North Carolina, was watching the election coverage when Dad decided to check his email.
In his inbox was the news they had been waiting on for more than a year: they are finally going to be able to move to New Zealand.
"Like a beacon of hope in the midst of a raging storm, there it was: an email from INZ saying our entry visa has been approved, and we can finally - after almost two years of being in process - book quarantine hotels and plane tickets," North Carolina mother-of-six Vallere Shelton said.
Vallere and her husband PG will move to New Zealand in the new year, alongside their children, Ian, almost 15, Zollie, 13, Ceirdwyn, 10, Eowyn, 8, Micah, 6, and Rohan, 3.
The family, who spent a year living in New Zealand in 2011/2012, began the process of returning to New Zealand in April last year, sending out job applications.
PG is a child and adolescent psychiatrist - a critical shortage field - and signed a contract with the Midcentral DHB in June last year, but a number of medical setbacks delayed the move, which was affected further by the pandemic.
With fond memories of their time in Whanganui in 2011, the American family is now looking forward to settling in Palmerston North, after what has been a rollercoaster of a final year in the US.
"We've had approved resident visas for months, but Covid caused all sorts of extra red tape and it had been incredibly anxiety provoking to be in limbo; originally, my husband's start date was in August, so we've spent almost half a year not knowing his employment situation come December," Vallere explained.
"These past few months have been so hard. Very stressful, my husband and I got Covid-19 during the visit to the doctor to get our medical exams for the visitor visa to get permission to book MIQ - don't worry! We have tested positive for antibodies now - we haven't been able to visit family like we intended to do before we left because of Covid. It's just been a lot," she added.
When Covid-19 hit New Zealand and Immigration NZ shut down during lockdown, the family was going through the process of getting their New Zealand residency visas sorted.
"We have two children with endocrine issues, and one of them got flagged by medical, so we had to go through an appeal process, which was also quite long. Then Covid happened, and INZ shut down and recalled all their staff from the US embassy. We were finally approved for our residency visas in July 2020," Vallere explained.
"We couldn't just send our passports to the Embassy to be sighted, though, so to actually enter NZ, we had to apply for visitor visas with special exceptions. Again, my son was flagged for medical, and we had to get another medical exam for him for the visitor visa. During that trip to the doctor, my husband and I contracted Covid."
The virus was "pretty rough".
"For me, the worst part was a terrible headache and really intense fatigue. My husband had a higher fever and fatigue as well. We tried to stay in our bedroom away from the kids, and thankfully, our older kids kept the house running. We were sick for two full weeks, and then slowly have gotten our strength back. Right at the end of our quarantine, our 3-year-old got sick. Thankfully, his only symptom was sleeping in and going to bed early."
Even if they hadn't caught the virus, Covid-19 had already disrupted their lives more than anyone would want.
Vallere's husband moved to more telemedicine appointments and, whenever he had to see colleagues or patients, he had to wear full PPE and maintain social distancing.
Lockdowns also ruined the Sheltons' plans to spend more time with their extended family and friends in 2020, before their move to New Zealand. Suddenly, they couldn't say the goodbyes they thought they'd have time to say.
"For me, as a stay-at-home mum, we are just housebound. We can't have play groups or go to parks. Knowing that we were to move overseas, we had planned to spend most of 2020 visiting family and friends, and that has not been possible. It has made it a lot harder on our family knowing we are leaving, and not being able to spend time with us and the kids like they want. They also know they can't just come visit us in NZ like the last time we were there," Vallere said.
In addition, they know plenty of people who've caught the virus. "We have a few extended family members who have had it, and a number of friends and acquaintances. Most have recovered, but there are some who are still dealing with lingering symptoms."
New Zealand's handling of the pandemic helped cement their choice to move.
According to Vallere, New Zealand has always had a good reputation where the family lives but the country's handling of the pandemic meant people are talking about it more. "I would say that most people around here hold NZ up on a bit of a pedestal for your pandemic control," she said.
Bush walks, hokey pokey and L&P
Fully recovered and with residency visas in hand, the countdown begins and the family is looking forward to a new start in New Zealand.
Judging by numbers of Google searches for "How to move to NZ" coming from US-based internet users, the Sheltons are not alone in hoping for a fresh start in the country.
Yesterday, election day in the US, Google showed a spike for searches from people wanting to know more about it.
The Shelton children have mixed feelings about the move. They are excited about New Zealand but also said to leave family and friends behind.
"We are thankful for technology, so they can still video chat with loved ones back home. The pandemic has given us a lot of practice with that already," the mum said.
As for the rest of their family and friends, they are mostly "sad, but supportive". "Nearly all of our friends have expressed jealousy and are incredibly happy for us," Vallere said.
They are looking forward to New Zealand's "amazing green hills" - but also some big scoops of hokey pokey ice cream and the taste of L&P.
"My older kids, who have some vague memories of NZ, want to go back to Te Papa to see the giant squid and they've told all the younger kids about how much fun it was to play at Kowhai Park in Whanganui. My husband and I are both looking forward to all of the outdoor activities NZ has to offer - spending time tramping as a family and exploring beautiful bush walks. He also misses the team work at his job in New Zealand."
2021 will be a definite fresh start for the family, from North Carolina to Palmerston North.
"Ngā mihi nui, Aotearoa," Vallere signs off. They've got quite a bit of packing to do.