Government to allow one-way quarantine-free travel for seasonal workers from Samoa, Tonga and Vanuatu

Government to allow one-way quarantine-free travel for seasonal workers from Samoa, Tonga and Vanuatu
Photo credit: Getty

The Government will open up one-way quarantine-free travel from Samoa, Tonga and Vanuatu for recognised seasonal employer (RSE) workers, to ease horticulture workforce challenges. 

It's expected to begin in September. 

"This policy will open up the ability for significantly more workers to enter the country to assist with an expected peak demand for workers in February and March of 2022," Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Monday.

"While we are currently bringing in 150 RSE workers every 16 days, this new one-way travel policy will significantly expand the potential workforce available for those experiencing labour shortages." 

Ardern said workers arriving as part of the scheme would still need to undergo quarantine on return to their home country.

She added that the risks associated with quarantine-free travel from the countries in question was considered low.

"Tonga has had no COVID-19 cases at all, Samoa has had one, and Vanuatu has had four. All were at the border and none have experienced community transmission."

The move comes after COVID-19 border closures caused a crippling worker shortage for the horticulture sector in the recent harvest season, with some growers forced to leave fruit to rot on the trees due to a lack of pickers.

Monday's announcement was welcomed by Horticulture New Zealand, which has been calling for such a move for months.

"The decision will provide both economic relief to the Pacific Islands and alleviate the pressure felt by New Zealand’s horticulture and wine industries who face extreme seasonal labour crises for harvest and pruning," said Horticulture NZ's chief executive Nadine Tunley.

"While Kiwis will continue to be first priority for employment in our horticulture and wine industries, we still require additional help from our seasonal workforce, particularly during such challenging economic times."

She said Horticulture NZ, NZ Apples & Pears, NZ Kiwifruit Growers, Summerfruit NZ, Wine NZ and NZ Ethical Employers were all working with the Government to  finalise the details of the arrangement and ensure the health, safety, and wellbeing of workers "remain paramount throughout this transition".