Five wealthy foreigners moved to New Zealand while the country's borders were closed, and were then granted residency to invest a combined $36 million.
Immigration New Zealand (INZ) figures released to RNZ show the people were given border exemptions to enter the country before being granted residency under investor visas.
That was despite hundreds more hopeful offshore investors - estimated to be worth $2 billion - having their own residency applications held up at the border.
With the country's borders closed to foreigners, Immigration New Zealand (INZ) can only process investor residency visas for those already here.
Immigration advisor Iain MacLeod has four clients, all offshore investors, who are waiting to have their residency visas approved once the borders open.
He questioned why five others were successful.
"It's absolute frustration because if they were able to find the resources, the time and the motivation to process those five, why did they effectively stop processing those other 400 for the last 12 months," MacLeod said.
"It's doesn't make any sense to me at all when the amount these people are going to contribute to New Zealand and they are also in various degrees of readiness to make that investment."
INZ figures showed there were 402 investor visa category residency applications approved that could not be processed until the people arrived in New Zealand, while 54 were granted to applicants already here.
Based on the minimum investment required under that visa category, MacLeod estimated $2b in potential investment was held up at the border.
He had been unable to secure border exemptions for his clients to come here, and had been advised it would be two years before their files were picked up.
"They've basically been left out in the cold for the past 12 months and will probably not be looked at for at least another two years," MacLeod said.
"These are often tremendously wealthy individuals with an awful lot to bring to New Zealand. I don't just mean in terms of money but of skills and networks, and they're effectively being told 'well, you can wait for three years'."
In a statement, INZ general manager for border and visa operations Nicola Hogg said the five approved for residencies - and their 14 associates - had travelled to New Zealand on other critical worker visas before having their applications for residency approved.
Other critical worker requests can only be made by New Zealand employers.
Hogg said three already had funds invested here and two were at the transfer-of-funds stage - a combined $36m.
INZ anonymised the data of five or fewer individuals to protect their privacy and was unable to provide a further breakdown of the investor category or the type of critical purpose visas received, Hogg said.
A call for an overhaul
One hopeful investor, who RNZ agreed not to name, was unhappy about the delays.
In a statement, they said the two-year wait was disappointing, even factoring in border closures.
"What I can't understand is why the government would turn their back on the potential for a $2 billion infusion into the economy right now," they said.
"Inviting individuals to apply for this type of visa and then expecting them to put their lives on hold for two to three years and ringfence the investment funds is an unjust and unreasonable expectation."
The investor said a complete overhaul of the investor visa programme was required.
"Clearly INZ is in desperate need of a shake up if they believe their current business practices and waiting times of two to three years to be reasonable."
MacLeod was concerned foreign investors would not wait that long.
"Their plan was to be here perhaps over the next 12 months. Everyone accepted with Covid there was going to be disruption but no-one for a second thought it was going to take three years for this thing to happen.
"My greatest fear is that some of these people are going to withdraw from the process and it is going to cost us investment and jobs in New Zealand."
The hard-hit tourism industry was also waiting for a boost.
luxury travel agency Seasonz Travel's managing director Sam Porter has hundreds of clients who are interested in living in New Zealand semi-permanently and travelling the country with money to spend.
"The thing that's frustrating is that it could be done so safely, it's not hard," he said.
"The people on our list coming here are serious investors globally. They invest not just in businesses here and infrastructure but what they're actually looking to do is come here semi-permanently and that means invest in our tourism sector which so badly needs it."
He was advising clients to aim to travel here late next year in the hope the border would re-open by then.
"If you imagine what one high net worth family does living in New Zealand for six months, it's an enormous way to kick start the tourism sector again."