Immigration New Zealand has apologised for telling immigrants they could become overstayers when administrative delays left them without a visa.
More than 100 people became unlawful overstayers after their interim visa expired.
More are expiring as immigration officials struggle to process a backlog of applications for temporary partnership visas.
Immigration New Zealand (INZ) says it will now issue three-month visas - matching the visa the immigrant was on previously - to those who are already overstaying, within a week.
The policy director of the Association for Migration and Investment, Arunima Dhingra, welcomed that.
INZ's accelerated restructure, higher than predicted visa numbers and a lack of trained staff, have caused long waiting times, especially for residence and partnership visas.
Those delays meant the interim visa - a six-month bridging visa - was no longer enough for immigration officers to finalise cases, she said.
"I know they're looking at clearing this backlog now, but it's the people that have been impacted and how they are going to be looked after is, that is of the essence," she added.
"It's been a tough year for immigration, there's a lot of legislative changes that have happened in the last 12 months or so.
"It's been a tough year for everyone who's been in the industry, I think on the immigration side and on our side as well. So it is appreciated that Immigration [New Zealand] is apologising that it's taken that long."
It would be particularly stressful for immigrants who did not have professional advice, she said.
"I think it's been very daunting for those people to not know where they're at, or what options they've got, or how bad things could get if this doesn't come out flying and approved. So it would be very daunting for them, they'd be lost."
Immigration lawyer Richard Small said he was shocked to receive an email from INZ suggesting his client should become unlawful.
"We have a heartbreaking story regarding a genuine couple who are married, and are waiting for a work visa, have been on an interim visa for six months, that's going to expire. And I have just received the most extraordinary email from Hamilton, suggesting that they just become overstayers for a while.
"It's actually illegal. It's a huge concern, it's misleading and illegal."
In the email, a case officer wrote: "We are aware that your client's interim visa is approaching expiry. We are endeavouring to allocate applications before the interim expires. We would normally advise that your client should leave the country to ensure they are not unlawful.
"But in the current circumstances, your client's open application would mean it would be unlikely any compliance process would be initiated. They could choose to remain in the country and would remain unlawful until the application is allocated, processed and decided.
"When considering your client's unlawful status period in the future, Immigration New Zealand would look at the mitigating circumstances of when your application was submitted, allocated and decided."
INZ said it did not know how many people received the email template.
The 108 immigrants made into overstayers by their expiring interim visa could be assured that their short term unlawful status would not affect any future decisions on their visa applications, said head of border and visa operations Nicola Hogg.
"What we're going to do about that is contact all of those individuals in the next couple of days to let them know that they will be issued a visa within the next week, which will obviously allow them to remain lawfully in New Zealand while we assess their applications.
"We're an organisation that believes in owning our mistakes and taking the necessary steps to put it right. And so we are working really hard to make it right for these people within the next week."