Kris Faafoi's immigration fix too late for some skilled migrants feeling forced to leave

New Zealand is about to become home for 165,000 migrants who have been in limbo - frozen in the broken immigration queue.

In a major, long-awaited immigration fix, the Government is fast-tracking residency for workers already in the country and their families.

Migrants have to tick one of six boxes to be eligible, including having lived in the country for at least three years, earning over the median wage or work in a specific industry.

The change aims to ensure healthcare, construction, manufacturing and primary industries can retain the workers they desperately need.But the move has come too late for some skilled migrants feeling forced to leave the country.

Imagine being torn apart from your partner and children for nearly two years. Craig Hurn doesn't have to - it's his reality.

"I've cried myself to sleep on numerous occasions," he told Newshub. "My family needs me... my wife is taking some strain so yeah, it's been pretty lonely."

The Government's mega announcement on Thursday could have kept Craig in the country and finally brought his family here. But it's too late. Next week Craig is out, taking his much-needed mechanical engineering skills with him.

"Very hurtful," he said. "It's something that one doesn't recover from. I'm leaving a bitter person."

Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi couldn't say how many critical workers New Zealand has lost due to the Government not acting fast enough.

"Oh look, it's hard to say."

National MP Erica Stanford says it's thousands.

"Kris Faafoi has been invisible and incompetent," she said.

"Thousands of migrants have already chosen to leave New Zealand because they didn't have any certainty here. This Government could have made a decision around this 12 months ago but they sat on their hands and did nothing."

The Government finally has a solution, and it's a whopper.

"This represents the most significant announcement in immigration policy in recent memory," said Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.

After the residency queue stalled with two-year long waits, now 165,000 residencies will be fast-tracked - more people than the population of Tauranga - which is good news for people like Lesley and Matt Snyman.

"We're really grateful, we are," Lesley told Newshub. "For my boy, and to be able to have my family with me, that just means the world."

Newshub first met them in July. The residency delays had left Matt in limbo - unable to work or study. His motivation and drive was sapped and he was struggling.

"It's very draining and it breaks me down quite often, to be honest," Matt told Newshub at the time.

Today, he has hope.

"It gives a lot more opportunity for me," he told Newshub. "I can actually finally go to university which was a goal for me since I can remember."

The optimism is cautious. Immigration NZ didn't command confidence when it accidentally posted the major policy shift online on Wednesday ahead of the announcement.

"I think I have expressed a degree of frustration to the chief executive of MBIE [Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment]," Faafoi said. "Mistakes happen."

The department also has a terrible track record of processing applications quickly.

"The ability of Immigration New Zealand to get through that many applications in 12 months is highly questionable," says Stanford.

"One of the things that I have been riding them hardest on is that if we make a commitment like this, that people aren't waiting long periods of time," said Faafoi.

Actually achieving that is critical. Those actions will mean more than words, which is necessary because one word - sorry - is off the table.

"If you want an apology... I don't want anyone to go through difficulty and I acknowledge that they have," Faafoi said.

It's 165,000 apologies replaced with priceless papers.