Government lets just 15 family members of highly skilled migrants enter New Zealand, despite exemption to reunite them

The Government has blocked the overwhelming majority of highly skilled migrant workers from bringing their families to New Zealand.

Despite creating a special exemption designed to reunite them, just 15 family members have been approved.

Mechanical engineer Craig Hurn, who's worked on critical projects like the City Rail Link and the Waikato Expressway, feels he's being forced to leave the country and says he's all alone.

"I'm in the most beautiful place in the world without my family." 

He's deemed a highly skilled worker in his role as an engineer.

Hurn has applied 10 times to get his family through the border. But Immigration NZ says no - he doesn't have unique skills or isn't doing an essential role.

"I'm nearly at breaking point," he tells Newshub.

In April, after protests and pressure, the Government promised to reunite some broken families 

Exemptions were created for some families stranded overseas, like critical health care workers, visa holders and highly skilled workers.

Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi said it would "ensure we can continue to retain highly skilled temporary workers necessary for New Zealand's economic recovery". 

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the Government had been "progressively opening up the criteria" as they had capacity in managed isolation to do so.

But Newshub can reveal of the almost 1700 people who've tried to use the exemptions to reunite with their loved ones, just 900 have been approved.

The most successful applicants were those joining critical health care workers - more than half got in.

But a tiny 15 family members of 123 highly skilled workers like Hurn have actually been allowed through the border.

National MP Erica Stanford says keeping family apart is not who New Zealand is.

"My question is: why are we doing this? What kind of country are we? We're keeping people away from their children. It's not who we are." 

Hurn's boss says he's indispensable and even bumped up his salary above the $106,000 threshold imposed on highly skilled visas so that he met the criteria - but still with no luck.

Hurn says there's "no valid reason" for why he was rejected. Newshub asked for an interview with the Immigration Minister but he refused.

On the one hand, his immigration reset focuses on the highly skilled - but he’s set the bar so high, few people can actually jump the hurdle.

Which begs the question: what's the point in creating the exemption in the first place if it just creates false hope for workers?