Coronavirus: Horticultural industry pushes for extended visas for workers

Harvesting of asparagus is starting to begin.
Harvesting of asparagus is starting to begin. Photo credit: RNZ

The horticultural sector is calling for its guest workers to be next in line to have their visa restrictions eased.

Visitors and temporary migrants trapped in this country by the restrictions on travel will now have their visas extended to give them more time to organise flights home.

But Horticulture NZ chief executive Mike Chapman said these changes did little to help people working in the horticultural and wine sectors.

He said the sector was coming up to a busy time.

"We're just starting harvest with strawberries and asparagus, that has quite a significant demand for workers," he said.

"Then as we come into Christmas, of course, cherries get picked and now we're coming into a period where we need thousands of workers."

In July, the horticultural industry warned it might have to cut back on the harvest if the Governement did not move quickly to head off a critical labour shortage in spring.

At that time, former Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway promised the horticultural industry that it would be able to recruit up to 14,400 registered seasonal workers from Pacific Islands later this year.

Kiwifruit producer Seeka chief executive Michael Franks said a lot was at stake for an industry facing a critical labour shortage.

The kiwifruit industry earned $2.3 billion in exports in the year to March, while the apple and pear industry earned $878 million, other fruits and nuts earned $3.5b and vegetables earned $505.5m.

Franks said most New Zealanders were not interested in working in the industry long enough to gain the necessary experience.

"People come and go, they don't stay," he said, adding the company was forced to recruit more than 900 New Zealanders to fill 240 jobs during the COVID-19 lockdown, because they kept quitting.

It was announced this week that those already in the country with visitor visas due to expire before the end of October would have their visa automatically extended for five months.

Temporary migrants unable to leave due to international travel restrictions would receive a new two-month COVID-19 short-term visa, which would kick in when their current visa expired.

Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi said the changes were specifically to help those people already in New Zealand with no immediate option to return home.

"Temporary migrants need to have a valid visa to remain lawfully in New Zealand, otherwise they are required to leave the country," he said.

"However, temporary migrants who choose to apply for the COVID-19 short-term visitor visa will not need to meet other usual visitor visa requirements, such as demonstrating that they have enough money to support their stay, having existing onward travel arrangements, or that they've met time limits for their stay in New Zealand."