Government increasing number of RSE workers allowed into New Zealand from Pacific Islands

The Government is increasing the number of seasonal workers from the Pacific Islands that are allowed into New Zealand.

It is increasing the quota of Recognised Seasonal Employer Scheme (RSE) workers by 1600, bringing it up to 16,000 people a year.

"We hope the increase in the cap will enable a greater number of workers to come in through the latter stages of March and April," says Minister for Primary Industries Damien O'Connor.

It's a job thousands of people from the Pacific Islands come to New Zealand for. Vanuatu RSE worker Shemmy Alvea is one of those who works here for six months of the year.

"I have to work to support my family back home, especially my kids," Alvea says.

"I like to work outdoors, especially on a farm like this."

But the sector says it falls well short of what is really needed.

"The industry needs at least 50 percent more than what they are lifting the cap to," says Julian Raine, a Nelson-based orchard owner.

But O'Connor says more workers can be brought in.

"We'll be working with the sector to bring more workers in for those seasonal pressure periods."

Pre-pandemic, the horticulture sector employed about 18,000 backpackers each year, so even with this new increase in RSE workers, growers still need another 15,000 workers.

"We're just coping at the moment. We've got a 10-week window where we have to get this fruit off - it's all hands to the pump," Raine says.

And there's more fruit than usual due to a bumper crop for many growers - but Raine needs at least 30 more workers to pick it.

"We left fruit on the trees last year. I would hope we don't get to that point this year."

He's still hopeful more Kiwis will step up to the job.