Newshub-Reid Research Poll shows Kiwis want more border exemptions as Government looks to loosen restrictions

In an attempt to allay the immense frustration felt by farmers and the horticulture sector, the Government is working on a one-way travel bubble with Samoa, Tonga and Vanuatu to bring in more seasonal workers. 

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern hinted at the change on Sunday after the latest Newshub-Reid Research Poll showed Labour facing a serious backlash from voters. But the changes won't be enough to appease the public over immigration. 

Newshub spoke to four Canterbury farmers at breaking point. Their concerns vary, but chief among them is that livelihoods are at stake because they simply don't have the workers. 

"We've been advertising for 12 months and we're still short of staff at the moment," said Dave Cornwall. 

And he's not alone. 

"I don't think they understand or support us enough with what we require at peak and critical times of the year with struggling for staffing - for skilled staff," says Matthew Wakelin. 

"We need the Government to act now before it's too late - we're six weeks away from harvest and we don't feel like we're getting the support that we need," added Patrick Nagle. 

So what a relief it was finally to hear the Government is looking to loosen restrictions. 

"Cabinet has made the decision to work to open up one-way quarantine-free travel to New Zealand from Samoa, Tonga and Vanuatu for RSE workers," Ardern announced on Monday.

"That would make a huge difference," says Nagle. "At this stage, we do need a lot of guys to come in."

RSE or seasonal workers from those three COVID-free islands won't need to go into managed isolation and quarantine (MIQ) but other safety nets will be in place.

"Things like pre-departure testing, on-arrival testing," Ardern said. 

But it's not just the agriculture and horticulture sectors burned by the border closures and screaming out for staff. Hospitality has been hobbled. 

Popular Mt Eden cafe Frasers has been forced to close three nights a week and all day Monday because it can't crew up.

"We need workers and as you can see we need them now," says owner Paul Fraser. 

And seasonal workers won't help.

"We need more skilled workers in," says Fraser. "They need to open up MIQ. They've had 18 months' practice. We're not the only industry struggling."

The Government is finally moving to fix the log-jammed MIQ system. But nothing will change for a couple of months.

"There are clearly some equity issues there and issues of fairness and we want to make sure we're looking really closely at that," says COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins. 

Immigration is one of Labour's key weaknesses. It's been heavily criticised for its treatment of skilled migrants and their families - families split or in limbo with residency applications frozen.

The latest Newshub-Reid Research poll asked: Does the Government need to create more exemptions to help these people?

A clear majority said yes, 61.3 percent, while just a quarter of voters said no, 24 percent. 

"We're working on those issues as we speak," says Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi. "Obviously with the likes of split families etc., it's about getting the balance right."

So far that balance has been way out of kilter - and voters don't like it.

Analysis by Political Editor Tova O'Brien

This should have been yesterday. It's a no-brainer. It's good for the Islands, good for New Zealand - but the Government is not famous for its haste.

It's aiming for September and has no idea how many people could come over, but there's about a 3000 seasonal worker shortfall.

The change marks the beginning of the Jacinda Ardern charm offensive. She doesn't want Labour's 9.7 point drop in our poll to be the beginning of a downward trend.

Expect further policy flexes from the Government. It's not just immigration Kiwis are upset about it. We'll bring you more of these poll questions which show precisely why the public is turning on the Government. 

The Newshub-Reid Research Poll was conducted between 22-29 July with a margin of error of 3.1 percent.