Trans-Tasman couples separated during the COVID-19 pandemic could soon reunite in New Zealand after Jacinda Ardern's government announced changes to border and visa controls.
Like many countries, New Zealand has enacted strict rules on international arrivals during the global pandemic.
New Zealand has restricted entries to citizens and Australians who are normally residents, giving out some exemptions on economic or hardship grounds.
On Wednesday, Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi said NZ was in a position to allow "a small number of people" into the country who "under normal circumstances, would have the right to come to New Zealand".
Australian partners will need to demonstrate they are in a "genuine and stable relationship" when applying for the border exemption, which would see them given a Critical Purpose Visa to travel and then a resident visa on arrival.
Dependent children can be included in the exemption request.
Since the onset of the pandemic, more than 40,000 Kiwis have returned home to their relatively safe shores.
The government has capped the number of international arrivals to allow for a compulsory 14-day isolation on arrival in a largely successful attempt to keep COVID-19 out.
With capacity to house around 7000 people within isolation at a time, those doors will now be open to those separated partners, and also to regular residents who found themselves overseas during COVID-19.
Those non-citizens who did not return to NZ will now also be able to apply for an exemption to return home if they can prove they still have a job or business in Aotearoa.
"Many of these visa holders and their families have lived in New Zealand for years and have built lives here ... it is only fair to let these visa holders return given their long-standing and ongoing connections to this country," Mr Faafoi said.
In another change, Kiwis in-waiting who have been granted residency but are stuck offshore, will be able to keep their residency status for an additional 12 months.
"The government understands the uncertainty that COVID-19 has had on a number of visa holders, particularly individuals overseas who have not been able to travel to New Zealand to activate their new resident visa," Mr Faafoi said.
"If not for border closures forced by the COVID-19 pandemic, they would be living in New Zealand.
"These changes will provide around 5600 resident visa holders, who have invested a lot of time and money to be granted a resident visa, with more certainty about their ability to come and settle in New Zealand in the future."
Some 16,500 temporary work visa holders have also had their stays in New Zealand lengthened.
Australian Associated Press