The government has so brazenly announced that it is ready to "welcome the world back" while remaining stunningly unwelcoming, even uncompassionate, toward thousands of families living in forced separation due to New Zealand's closed borders for two years, and in doing so, has chosen to shield the colossal incompetency of immigration bureaucracy.

It is not clear if the government is following the Public Health advice or Immigration NZ's advice, in deciding the order of the sequential entry of people from overseas in the country.

From the onset of the pandemic and the border closure in March 2020, we were told that the public health advice and the need for preserving NZ's public health system was the primary driving factor in restricting or limiting the number of people entering in the country.

Over two years, this core public health advice had to be reconciled with the legal rights of citizens, residents, and their immediate families, including with citizens of Australia with whom NZ shares a special bond and relationship and allowing them intermittently whenever Covid situation in the community was under control.

Some special attention was also given to high skilled, high wage temporary workers, including a minuscule category of existing work visa holders who were locked out of the borders but had a proven long-term connection with NZ - in being allowed to enter the country.

However, at no stage of the two yearlong pandemic and the border closure did the partners and families separated from NZ based citizens, residents, and workers were made to feel prioritised even after the foreign tourists and visitors with no connection to the country.

Except, when the government took another shot at border reopening in February early this year, (after having developed a cold foot about the original border reopening plan late last year) and announced a five-stage plan of allowing sequential entry into the country.

It was then that the government first made its intention clear that the partners and families of NZ based people will be considered even after the foreigners from visa-waiver countries – a revelation that has caused both, frustration and surprise on the seemingly senseless order of frustration.

The ensuing media-probing had then revealed that the decision to prioritise travellers from visa waiver countries over the partners and families, predominantly from non-visa waiver countries, including India, was a determinant of immigration advice and not public health advice.

To be clear, public health advice will not seek to allow inward travellers based on visa status or the colour of passport – at least that would be a bare minimum expectation in a modern, diverse and progressive country like NZ.

Subsequently, media reports had emerged confirming the worst fears of many that the decision had an imprint of the chaos facing the immigration bureaucracy – which had been under the weather for last many years for failing to deliver a time-bound visa processing causing embarrassment to the government of the day and to brand-NZ overseas.

Responding to an RNZ story the Immigration New Zealand (INZ) had then said the staging was because visas were 'resource-intensive', and visa processing could not be opened fully in the next eight months in part because INZ was focused on processing the one-off residence visa (RV21) for an estimated 165,000 people.

That acknowledgement was nothing short of acceptance of gross incompetency by a government department which is responsible for approving foreigners' entry into the country under different visa categories.

It was nothing new, though, as Immigration NZ has been for last many years hiding behind the gimmicks of planning failure, including the repeated story of the closure of offshore visa processing centres (2016 onwards) and failure of accurately forecasting the demand for visas and entry into NZ resulting in prolonged visa processing queues and ensuing delays.

The current government had been sheepishly tolerating and even perpetuating the culture of incompetency that has seeped within Immigration NZ in the last few years, probably because of the lack of enough depth within its own ranks in the cabinet as successive Immigration Ministers have failed to jolt the system.

The fact that the current Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi is willing to accept the lame excuse pedalled by immigration bureaucracy that their resources have been over-deployed in managing the one-off 2021 residency visa applications and hence unable to prioritise looking into visa applications of few thousand separated partners and families does not augur well for the ministerial talent within this government.

This has got nothing to do with the Covid pandemic. It is all about what minimum standards under which this government's ministers are allowed to operate.

For the last two years of the Covid pandemic, with no, or extremely limited inward travel in the country, NZ's immigration bureaucracy and the immigration minister had been almost sitting idle.

And they have been found wanting and utterly inadequate to the first challenge coming their way in the form of border reopening.

It is unfortunate and unacceptable that the government is shielding the colossal incompetence of Immigration NZ.