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Meli Kolinisau was in the process of reapplying for his work visa when New Zealand’s borders were closed and the limbo he has been living in since began.

He is now one of thousands of temporary visa holders and applicants locked out of the country, desperate to get back to their jobs and homes in New Zealand.

Mr Kolinisau (25), an apprentice at Laser Plumbing in Oamaru, was forced to return to Fiji on March 7, after discovering one of the supporting documents for his visa application was out of date. From Fiji, he resubmitted his application, with the up-to-date documentation, expecting it would not take long to be processed and he could return to Oamaru.

But before that could happen, New Zealand’s borders closed due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Immigration NZ stopped processing visas and he has been stuck in Fiji for the past three months.

“Everything has been on hold,” he said.

Mr Kolinisau said he had been told by Immigration NZ that it was not processing any visas for people who were offshore, unless they met strict criteria to be granted an exception.

He planned to make a request for an exception, but, for now, he was left in limbo in Fiji.

Mr Kolinisau grew up in Fiji, but has been living in Oamaru since 2014.

He moved to the North Otago town to take up a rugby scholarship at Waitaki Boys’ High School. He then got a job at Laser Plumbing, met his partner Laura Pickles and now considers Oamaru home.

While he had enjoyed spending more time with his family in Fiji, being away from Miss Pickles, his partner of four-and-a-half years, had been tough, especially when there was no return date in sight, he said.

Miss Pickles recently joined a group of New Zealand citizens and permanent residents, who were also separated from their loved ones, to write an open letter to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway, praising them for their “fantastic job” at fighting the Covid-19 pandemic, but also appealing for them to let their partners back in.

“It’s going to take a while, I reckon,” Mr Kolinisau said.

“But what can we do, you know? It is what it is, we just have to accept the fact that I’m here.”

Lockdown in Fiji had been similar to New Zealand, he said.

Because of early border closures, the Pacific island nation had effectively contained the spread of the Covid-19 virus. There had only been 18 recorded cases, no deaths and no new cases had been reported for more than 40 days.

Mr Kolinisau is a keen rugby player. He was a star player in last year’s Meads Cup-winning North Otago Heartland rugby team and was rewarded for his performance by being selected for the New Zealand Heartland XV.

In lockdown, fitness had been a big focus for him and he hoped to be able to return to New Zealand for the rugby season.

“I pretty much finished all of the movies on Netflix, so I started doing some training. It’s pretty much all I’ve been doing. I went and bought some dumbbells and luckily I’ve got my younger brother here supporting me doing training,” he said.

The lockdown had also held up his apprenticeship progress, and he was desperate to return to work in Oamaru and become fully qualified.

“I’ve pretty much finished all of my block courses, I just have to [sit] my exam and then get my qualification,” he said.

“Shane [Carter], my boss, just called me and said definitely need you back, we’ve been flat out with work’.”