New Zealand / Politics

More visas for temporary seasonal workers

13:02 pm on 26 September 2019

The number of temporary visas for foreign seasonal workers will increase by just over 3000 in the next two years.

Ian Lees-Galloway announcing increases in the number of temporary visas in the Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) scheme. Photo: RNZ / Charlie Dreaver

In the first year, 1550 more visas will be available for workers from the Pacific to come to New Zealand under the Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) scheme.

An increase in the second year is conditional on the industry proving it is making horticulture and viticulture sectors easier and more attractive for New Zealand workers.

Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway said the industry would also need to up its game and make sure more accommodation was built for workers.

"The cap on the number of temporary visas that can be granted to employ foreign seasonal workers is set to rise by 3150 over two years to 16,000,'' Mr Lees-Galloway said.

In the first year it will increase by 1550 to 14,400 for 2019/20 and if approval has also been given for the cap to be raised then it will increase by a further 1,600 places to 16,000 in 2020/21.

Mr Lees-Galloway said restrictions would be placed on the further use of residential housing by seasonal workers to prevent New Zealanders being squeezed out of local housing by the increased cap.

"New Zealand is dealing with a housing crisis left to us by the previous government. So, this year restrictions will be placed on the further use of residential rental housing by RSE employers to accommodate RSE workers," Mr Lees-Galloway said.

"I continue to encourage the industry to do more to accommodate its workforce and make sure Kiwis aren't squeezed out of local housing by an increase in the RSE cap".

Areas that are deemed to have low housing pressure will be exempted from the restriction, he said.

A man from Vanuatu works in a Hawke's Bay orchard under the Recognised Seasonal Employer scheme. Photo: RNZI / Johnny Blades

Strawberry grower Francie Perry said they had needed a decision in July to give officials the time to allocate the extra numbers, and today's announcement was too little, too late.

"If we don't get some help from Immigration New Zealand then again we'll miss the boat for our own harvest and again we'll have fruit rotting in the fields,'' she said.

Ms Perry has told RNZ her farm might have to leave crops to rot in the ground if they can't get enough pickers.

Horticulture New Zealand said the government was moving in the right direction but more RSE workers were still needed to support horticulture's big growth.

"For strawberries and asparagus it's not good because they can't access workers for their harvest, which is now,'' Hort NZ chief executive Mike Chapman said.

"There's a lead time, you've got to be able to process visas, you've got to be able to identify who is available to work and get them out to New Zealand. So it doesn't help them at all."

Mr Chapman said a better announcement would have been at least another 500 visas being granted immediately.