Visa 'processing crisis' means longer wait for overseas families to reunite

It's been more than 700 days since New Zealand's border slammed shut - separating migrant families.

And even with the border set to open, it could be even longer for those families to reunite due to visa processing times blowing out.

This could also delay much-needed migrant workers entering the country.

The last time Dhairya Kant held his daughter, she was 10 days old.

"This is the picture when she's one month old - I think she's angry at me for leaving," Kant says.

Kant worked in New Zealand through the pandemic as an essential worker researching infant formula.

His family can only apply to join him from October - but it could then take months longer to process their visa.

"How long do we need to wait to be in a normal life?" Kant says.

"I wouldn't say they're the bottom of the heap, from step three people who've got visas that are still valid are able to come in," Minister of Justice Kris Faafoi says.

Step three of the reopening plan starts in April for highly-skilled workers earning 1.5 times the median wage - Kant is among the many migrants who don't earn enough.

"How it can be so luxurious to be with our own child, you know?" he says.

Partners of work visa holders can apply to come to New Zealand from July.

Partners of students, like Kant, can apply from October.

Or if eligible, they can apply for the new 2021 residency visa and bring their partner when it's granted.

"When they get their visas - that's when they can bring their families in," Minister Faafoi says.

When they get their visas - emphasis on when. Because visa processing times have blown out.

"Immigration New Zealand has a processing crisis," National Party's immigration spokesperson Erica Stanford says.

Ninety percent of student visas now take 85 days, partners of a worker or student take four months and essential skills visas take five months.

"It's big promises, PR announcements, but when it comes down to actually processing their visas - the delivery - and it's taking months to get these people in the country," Stanford says.

Immigration New Zealand told Newshub it was scaling up its workforce to handle the impending workload.

It said people can only apply for a visa when the border opens to them - not before.

So when we open the door to all critical workers in July it could still be months before their visa is processed.

Ski operators worry it won't be until after the snow season starts that they get the workers they need.

"We need that support from Immigration to be able to process the visas quickly so get those people in so we can secure those operations for the winter," CEO of NZSki Paul Anderson says.

Winter is coming and with it is an avalanche of visa requests.