Nearly 35,000 tourists waiting weeks for visitor visas to enter New Zealand

New Zealand's open for business - that's been Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern's unofficial tagline while she's been out selling the country as a tourist destination.

But Newshub can reveal tens of thousands of people are stuck in the queue waiting for visitor visas.

New Zealand allows tourists from certain countries like the United Kingdom and the United States to travel here without a visa. Almost 300,000 tourists from countries have been granted entry since the borders opened to them in May. But since August 1 - the grand reopening of New Zealand's borders to everyone else - 61,534 have applied for visas. Of these, only 26,332 have been approved and 515 declined.

It means 34,687 tourists are waiting weeks in the queue, and among them is Marianela Pereira. She and fiancé Chris Wilson were set to get married in Queenstown, but 60 days later, the wedding's cancelled because they're still waiting for Pereira's tourist visa - she needs one as she's from Costa Rica.

"What was going to be the time of our dreams became the time of our nightmares and a lot of money spent," Pereira said.

"New Zealand is still a beautiful country and the people are great but getting there is almost impossible," Wilson added.

Minister of Immigration Michael Wood said those at Immigration NZ have had a big job to do.

"As I say, in the early days they took a bit more time than they ideally would have but they're now making real progress."

The National Party was critical of the visa wait times.

"We've got the Prime Minister out there saying we're open for business, but in reality, the front door's locked," said the party's immigration spokesperson Erica Stanford.

And what's really grinding National's gears is the salaries. Since 2017, the number of Immigration NZ staff earning more than $100,000 has almost tripled from 137 to 367, and the number earning more than $200,000 has more than doubled from 11 to 23.

"Under three pretty hapless immigration ministers, we've now got an immigration department that is spending more money, hiring more staff, processing fewer visas," Stanford said.

But Wood said he's happy with Immigration NZ's performance.

"I think over the past two years, they've had an enormously mammoth task."

While New Zealand's borders were slammed shut, the Government decided to use the opportunity to completely reset the country's immigration settings with new visas, systems and targets. So the Government should have anticipated a total reboot would have come with some loading errors.