Queenstown concerned about effect of immigration cuts on tourism

Queenstown is gearing up for its busy summer season as bars and restaurants begin to fill.

The town is an international tourist trap and relies heavily on imported labour to operate.

"They're essential to us... they tend bars, restaurants, clean motels, hotels - bottom line is we couldn't survive without them," says Jim Boult, Mayor of Queenstown.

The mayor says there are around 3000 transient workers at any one time, but the work visas that allow them in are set to be cut by the new Government.

Immigration is sitting at around 70,000 people a year. Labour is promising to cut that by 20,000 to 30,000, with up to 10,000 student visas slashed, post-study work visas cut by up to 12,000 and work visas reduced by up to 8000.

Labour wants Kiwis trained to fill skills gaps rather than relying on immigration.

But Mr Boult says most jobs in Queenstown are already offered to Kiwis first.

"There aren't enough Kiwis in town to do the jobs. We've tried to get more people to come into town in the past, that hasn't worked."

Accommodation business owner Alastair Luke says businesses already jump through hoops to offer jobs to Kiwis first. He has 10 staff, all of them foreign.

"They're already coming to us worried about the future and if we can do anything about it," he says.

Labour's policy states it will only cut new visa applications.

The concern's not just about losing vital foreign workers. It's also about losing a unique culture.

The town hopes the new Government will consider it a special case with unique circumstances.