NZ horticultural industry pushes for extended worker visas

Visitors and temporary migrants -‘trapped’ in New Zealand by the travel restrictions- will now have their visas extended to give them more time to organise flights home. However, Horticulture NZ chief executive Mike Chapman said these changes did little to help people working in the horticultural and wine sectors. He said the sector was coming up to a busy time.

"We're just starting harvest with strawberries and asparagus, that has quite a significant demand for workers. Then as we come into Christmas, of course, cherries get picked and now we're coming into a period where we need thousands of workers."

In July, the horticultural industry warned it might have to cut back on the harvest if the government did not move quickly to head off a critical labour shortage in spring. At that time, former Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway promised the horticultural industry that it would be able to recruit up to 14,400 registered seasonal workers from Pacific Islands later this year.

Kiwifruit producer Seeka chief executive Michael Franks said a lot was at stake for an industry facing a critical labour shortage. The kiwifruit industry earned $2.3 billion in exports in the year to March, while the apple and pear industry earned $878 million, other fruits and nuts earned $3.5b and vegetables earned $505.5m.

Franks said most New Zealanders were not interested in working in the industry long enough to gain the necessary experience: "People come and go, they don't stay.”

According to¸ it was announced this week that those already in the country with visitor visas due to expire before the end of October would have their visa automatically extended for five months. Temporary migrants unable to leave due to international travel restrictions would receive a new two-month Covid-19 short-term visa, which would kick in when their current visa expired.

Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi said the changes were specifically to help those people already in New Zealand with no immediate option to return home.

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