A managed isolation and quarantine (MIQ) booking system glitch wrongly keeping hundreds of families separated will now be resolved as a matter of priority - despite the agency initially saying it was "not actively working" on a fix.
The U-turn comes after National immigration spokesperson Erica Stanford exposed the issue, which had left some resident visa holders and families of essential workers unable to book MIQ spots because the system couldn't verify them.
Adding to the heartbreak for those stranded overseas, Stanford shared a screenshot of an email people had been sent by MIQ explaining that while officials were aware of the IT error, they were "not actively working on fixing it".
"It's entirely possible the 2021 Residence Visa will not be added to the Managed Isolation Allocation System (MIAS) voucher until after the borders reopen, when of course it will no longer be necessary," the email read.
That drew major backlash, but associate deputy secretary of MIQ Andrew Milne has since confirmed to Newshub that contrary to that email, a fix is forthcoming.
"We are investigating the issue and actively seeking to resolve it as a matter of priority," he said.
"Interim solutions are being worked through to help affected travellers. We are aware that 187 people who have the legal right to enter New Zealand cannot currently be verified by the system but there could be others impacted by data accuracy issues."
Milne also said sorry for the information some people attempting to book an MIQ spot had received, explaining it was not accurate and an investigation was underway.
"We apologise for the email some travellers may have received which indicates we are not working on fixing the issue," he said.
"We can confirm MIQ and Immigration NZ are actively investigating and working to fix the issue. More updates will be available next week including what options may be available for those impacted."
Milne says the glitch came about after a change last month to the MIQ verification process, which now requires people to prove they're eligible to enter the country before booking a spot in MIQ.
He says while they're aware of nearly 200 people who have been impacted, more than 20,000 have used it without an issue.
"A small percentage of passengers with valid New Zealand visas may not be able to be verified on the MIAS," he said.
"If the data the traveller enters into the MIQ booking system does not match the Immigration NZ data then the traveller cannot be verified and will not be able to participate in room releases.
"Currently there is no manual verification system and unfortunately, an unverified passenger cannot book an MIQ space."
Earlier, Stanford had taken aim at the Government over the email, saying its refusal to address the issue was creating distress for families and labelling it a "classic case of 'computer says no'".
"Our essential workers have done everything the Government has asked. They've patiently waited for months to reunite with their families," she said.
"Now the Government is telling them to continue supporting our COVID-19 response while telling them they'll have to wait even longer to see their families. The Government's failure to fix these issues with urgency is cruel and appalling - and is sending a message to migrants that they don't care about them."
The requirement to prove you were able to enter New Zealand before booking an MIQ room was introduced last month to ensure rooms are optimally used and wastage is minimised, Milne said.
Before the change, people would be able to book rooms even without the right to enter New Zealand.
"If they failed to show up those rooms would not be occupied. It also helped us combat the issue of a small number of incidents where fake passport details were being used to book a room," Milne said.