Apple industry calls for holiday visas to be extended through harvest

By Nona Pelletier of RNZ

Business and backpackers are teaming up to persuade the Minister of Immigration to extend their visas through the upcoming harvest season.

Some 25,000 visitors in New Zealand are on holiday visas and many want to stay as the pandemic continues to spread around the world.

They have been excluded from the six month extension granted to three classes of skilled and sponsored work visas, as well as visas for up to nearly 14,500 seasonal workers.

Another 350,000 temporary workers are in New Zealand, and half will need to renew or vary their visas soon.

They can apply for an extension to stay for compassionate reasons, but it is not clear what qualifies as a valid reason.

Otherwise, Immigration New Zealand will not renew any temporary worker's visa unless their employer can prove there are no citizens or permanent residents to do their job.

This is difficult to do with an unemployment rate expected to have risen to more than 7 percent in the last three months, and to peak at 9 percent by the end of the year.

Backpackers who want to stay in New Zealand have launched a petition calling for their working holiday visas to also be given a six-month extension. The petition has gained the support of more than a thousand people in the first 24 hours.

Petition organiser Marie Bock, who is here from Germany on a working holiday visa, said many people did not now want to leave but felt they have little choice.

"A lot of backpackers and people on working holiday visas, they are leaving because they don't really know what's going on, so other working visas have been extended but not ours.

"If something happens, it needs to happen soon, that we can plan accordingly, that people don't book their flights back home."

Bock said backpackers did not want to take jobs away from citizens or residents, but doubted they would want the jobs visitors were willing to do.

"I don't know how the country will be able to cover all the agriculture work during the summer because I think locals didn't want to do the work before and I don't think they'll be willing to do it now or be able to do it now," she said.

New Zealand Apple and Pear spokesperson Gary Jones said the industry was a major export earner, but it relied on a temporary workforce.

Temporary workers make up nearly 80 percent of the people who pick the fruit, but about 80 percent of the people who pack the fruit are citizens and residents and their livelihoods depend on the temporary workforce that picks the fruit.

Jones said between 60,000 and 80,000 temporary workers normally picked the fruit, but it may have to make do with less than half when the season began in spring.

"Essentially we're hearing it, really from the Government and the minister, things such as we'll have to just expect to work with these Pacific Island workers or these working holiday scheme workers.

"I think it's very important that we have a strategic solution because if we're expecting that we're going to have an export led recovery [then] we need to plan for that and we're just not quite getting the sense that we've got confidence that we're going to be in a good space this time next year."

Jones said the industry wanted to sit down with the ministers for agriculture, social development and immigration to come up with a solution, before the temporary workforce evaporates.