Government investigating immigration settings for chefs amid claims Michelin star cooks couldn't get into New Zealand

  • 07/09/2022

The Government is probing immigration settings for chefs amid claims Michelin star superstars would be unable to enter New Zealand to fill much-needed job vacancies.

It follows a series of interviews on AM over claims chefs who've worked in some of the world's swankiest restaurants weren't considered to be sufficiently qualified to enter the country.

Hospitality NZ chief executive Julie White said on Monday businesses were at breaking point.

"They literally cannot open their businesses without these chefs," she told AM.

On the same day, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was asked about the immigration settings and why senior chefs weren't being allowed into New Zealand. 

"There are some areas where you'll have qualifications that they'll then try and match to the equivalent of New Zealand qualifications and I think that's where this issue has arisen," Ardern said.

"I am going to ask Immigration New Zealand to just go and check that we've got the settings right." 

Now, AM can report that, at Ardern's request, Immigration Minister Michael Wood met with officials from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment on Tuesday afternoon.

Wood. Photo credit: AM

Immigration advisor Katy Armstrong said the hospitality industry was pulling its hair out over a technicality - which required chefs to have a level four certificate - stopping critical workers from entering New Zealand.

She said under the current rules, even world-renowned celebrity chef Jamie Oliver would struggle to get a job in New Zealand.

"Jamie Oliver would be a great example because, if you look him up on the internet, he's got some kind of qual [qualification] but it's in home economics," Armstrong said. "It might be that the NZQA (NZ Qualifications Authority) would say, 'Sorry, Jamie, nice qual - but it's not level four Professional New Zealand Cookery."

And, even if a chef did meet the standards, she said it could take NZQA between two and three months to certify their qualifications before they could start working in New Zealand.

"We are finding it to be slow and I guess it doesn't get to the root cause of the problem anyway, because what happens with your chef if they just don't have a qualification that you can put to the NZQA?"

She said the policy was "unworkable" and needed to change.

"It's an anomaly," Armstrong said.

A spokesperson for Wood, referring to Ardern's comments on Monday, said the Immigration Minister was seeking advice from officials on the matter and wasn't in a position to comment further.

National Party leader Christopher Luxon, meanwhile, said New Zealand's immigration settings were "completely wrong".

Luxon. Photo credit: AM

"Every sector - every region - is crying out for workers and the reality is the Government has created a real blockage in Immigration New Zealand.

"We've talked a lot about nurses and fast-tracking a pathway to residency but, on Working Holiday Visas, that's something we could be doing a great job on; we should extend the age to 35, we should let people come back one, two, three times, we could extend their visas as they are today and that's the sort of thing we need to be doing - getting out there and marketing it to the world."

Watch the video for the full interview with Katy Armstrong.