Immigration policy changes announced to fill key labour shortages amid Covid-19 pandemic

Source: 1News

The Government announced today a number of immigration policy changes, including class exceptions for border entry and a new seasonal employment visa, to help fill key labour shortages amid a clampdown on international travel due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Contractors are taking precautions as the annual influx of thousands of workers approaches.

The border entry exceptions will apply to 30 veterinarians, 570 deep sea fishing crew and 210 agricultural and horticultural mobile plant operators, Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi said in a statement.

The exceptions will be time-limited, and the Government will look to industry representatives to identify which workers will be eligible for a border exception within the allocation.

"Tight border restrictions remain the backbone of the Government’s border strategy to protect New Zealand against Covid-19 and ensure New Zealand citizens and residents can return home," Faafoi said.

"The Government understands the challenges the tight border restrictions create. We continue to review possible exceptions that would help address critical workforce gaps that cannot be filled by New Zealanders and help support the Covid-19 economic recovery, while ensuring our managed isolation and quarantine system can cope."

The Government will be prioritising industries which can "demonstrate a plan for education, training, wages and other activities that will attract New Zealanders into their sector" as more New Zealanders return home for work.

The fishing industry has since committed to removing barriers to "employing New Zealanders, including reviewing pay structures and business models, and investing significantly in training and education" in exchange for the border exemptions.

The Government will continue to review border settings as appropriate, and consider class exceptions where they are warranted and manageable, as the country continues to recover from Covid-19, he said.

"Our decisions on border exceptions take into account a large number of factors, including humanitarian reasons, reuniting families, economic benefits, and ensuring sufficient skills, experience and talents are available.

"In the past month, exceptions were made for some normally resident temporary visa holders, more partners of New Zealanders, and now, additional critical workers. These are pragmatic decisions that help New Zealand, while protecting the critical role our border plays as the first line of defence against Covid-19."

Faafoi also announced a Supplementary Seasonal Employment (SSE) visa, which will be automatically given to around 11,000 working holiday visa holders in New Zealand with visas expiring between November 1, 2020, and March 31, 2021. The visas will allow them to work in horticulture and viticulture roles, where there are not enough New Zealanders available to fill the roles. 

Employers can take on SSE workers when there are unfilled Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) scheme spaces with an RSE employer, or there are unfilled roles available with an accredited SSE employer, he said.

Employers will also be able to take on SSE workers for roles in regions specified on a list currently being compiled by the Ministry of Social Development.

Government changes will also enable other work visa holders to apply for an SSE visa if they have a job offer from one of these employers or if the job is on the Ministry of Social Development list.

All RSE scheme workers stranded in New Zealand who have been granted a more flexible limited visa to be able to work part-time and do non-RSE work will also be able to ‘re-enter’ the RSE scheme and work for an RSE employer with 30 hours per week average pay guaranteed.

"We know many RSE workers are stranded in New Zealand because of Covid-19. These changes will provide certainty and options for these people, and we expect RSE workers will have priority for any seasonal work that cannot be filled by New Zealanders.

"While only a small number of migrants can arrive in New Zealand, the Government is enabling the remaining migrant workforce to stay on. This will go a long way to support the labour needs of the horticulture and viticulture industries."

It comes after the National Party today pledged to expand its managed isolation capacity if they are elected next month.