Immigration Minister knew all along about border inconsistency splitting migrant workers from families

The Immigration Minister has known all along about an inconsistency at the border which means critical migrant healthcare workers are split from their families. 

But Kris Faafoi is refusing to commit to fixing the problem, saying the Government is not in the business of giving people false hope. 

There are hundreds of tales of heartbreak in New Zealand due to the inconsistency - mothers forced apart from their babies. 

"We expected that we could bring our family within six months but couldn't," Kapiti coast aged care worker Merin Jose told Newshub. 

"We are living an incomplete family we are mentally depressed here," said Honey Abraham, also an aged care worker on Kapiti Coast. 

They left their sons in India when they were nine- and 10-month-old babies, expecting to soon be reunited - but it's now been a year. 

"My mum is taking care of my father and my son. She is suffering a lot," says Jose. 

Her father is undergoing treatment for cancer. She held back tears. 

Merin and Abraham came to New Zealand before the borders closed. In normal times their families would follow. 

"That is one of the issues with having a hard border closure. I know it's difficult, we have sympathy for them," said Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi. 

He acknowledged that New Zealand needs them. 

"Yes, and there are plenty of others that are trying to get into the country that are critical."

But there's a glaring inconsistency: critical workers coming in now can bring their families.

That means these healthcare workers could technically leave New Zealand and travel back with their families, taking months, costing thousands, risking lives in COVID-19 hotspots and losing their valuable skills. 

One doctor Newshub spoke to, who chose not to be identified, works in a poor, high-need area with huge wait times for treatment. 

His wife - a top surgeon - is stranded overseas, denied a border exemption.

"I have to quit my work, quit working with the community as a doctor, and then I have to fly back overseas to go and fetch her and bring her here with me," he said. 

But he's watched The Wiggles ushered through the border. 

"If you're a common person, you know what, 'we don't give a crap about you' - I'm sorry for my language but that's what I feel - I feel like rubbish which can be thrown around by the Government," he said. 

"I don't see any hope at all because basically what I get sent is 'we can't help you'."

He's written to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who on Wednesday offered hope saying she'd look into the problem - a problem her Immigration Ministers have known about all along.

Newshub asked Carolyn Tremain, the chief executive of the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE), if they had been flagging the issue regularly with the Immigration Minister since June.

"We've been raising a number of issues and ministers have been working through some of those that are more time-critical," she said. 

The Government appears to not be prioritising a health workforce that it's forcing to leave the country.

"There is no perfect situation when the border is closed. They are in a difficult situation," Faafoi said. "We are getting advice on that."

The Immigration Minister has been getting advice since October and it's been a problem since June. 

"If we have the capacity to deal with it then we might look at it," Faafoi said. 

It's too much looking, not enough doing.

"Living like this there is no meaning," says Honey Abraham. 

"There is no hope for us," says Merin Jose. 

Immigration officials say if the minister took it to Cabinet it could be fixed in a matter of weeks.

"We are not in the business of giving people false hope. We are looking at it and we have to manage the border to keep everyone safe," said Faafoi. 

Keeping everyone safe is precisely what these healthcare workers do every day. There are more than 1000 people like this split from their families.

They're not asking for special treatment - they've paid good money, time and made sacrifices to be here to work in our understaffed heath service.