Jacinda Ardern’s government has been urged to end months of misery for migrant workers in New Zealand and reunite families separated by Covid-19.

Hundreds of migrants who moved to New Zealand in the months before March last year were unable to bring their families into the country when Covid-19 prompted border closures.

Immigration New Zealand paused applications for family reunifications in the wake of Covid-19 and has yet to consider applications since.

Daniel Bredenkamp, a mechanic who relocated from South Africa in the weeks before the pandemic hit, has not seen his wife and two children for 16 months and said the situation was “taking its toll”.

“I’ve missed more than a quarter of my daughter’s life,” he said. “It’s really taking its toll on me. Physically, mentally, spiritually, in any way it can.

“And at this point I don’t know whether I’m going to be alone this time next year. It’s so hard.”

Like many migrants, Bredenkamp moved to New Zealand ahead of his family and was expecting them to join him once he was settled in his job.

“At first we thought the delay might be two or three months,” he said. “They’d look at them in November. November came and they postponed it to March.

“So they’re not processing the visas. There’s a humanitarian border exemption but keeping children from their parents is not included.”

Other exemptions to New Zealand’s border regime – which largely restricts overseas arrivals to citizens – have angered separated families.

“Kiwis coming home should be prioritised and we fully agree,” Bredenkamp said. “But they’re letting in sports teams. They let in a production of The Lion King. They let in millionaire yachties for the America’s Cup. It’s so inconsistent.”

Bredenkamp travelled to Wellington to protest outside parliament this week, gathering support from both the rightwing opposition National party and the leftwing Greens.

Also protesting was Polina Chernyshova, an engineer from Russia.

In 2019, Chernyshova took up a PhD in mechanical engineering at Auckland University of Technology while her Moscow-based fiance, also a mechanical engineer, works at Boeing.

They have been apart since, with Chernyshova unable to leave New Zealand as she wouldn’t be let back in, losing her job and studies.

“It’s terrible, it’s completely terrible. We don’t know when we can see the other and we don’t know when we will know. It is so unfair,” she said.

The opposition leader, Judith Collins, said the trans-Tasman bubble – which would clear Australians from the quarantine system, freeing up thousands of places – could solve the problem.

“They’re very skilled people who have come into New Zealand on work permits, able to bring their families in who have stayed behind to sort things out,” she said.

“With spots opening up in managed isolation, some spots should be made available to these essential workers who have done nothing wrong.”

The Greens’ immigration spokesman, Ricardo Menendez March, accepted a petition from the desperate families, agreeing with Collins.

“It’s a devastating situation … families separated by the pandemic deserve a fair shot at being reunited,” he said.

Ardern’s government has acknowledged the issue – asking Immigration New Zealand for a solution – but has yet to resolve the matter.

“We accept that a lot of pain has been caused by those border closures, and in some cases we do have a bit of unfairness in the system,” Ardern said.

This content first appear on the guardian

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