Immigration Minister says allowing fruit pickers into NZ to fix labour shortage 'not an option'

Usually, about 14,000 workers come in to the country to work the apple season.
Usually, about 14,000 workers come in to the country to work the apple season. Photo credit: RNZ / Rocket Global Ltd

The Minister of Immigration is adamant the Government will not let overseas workers cut corners through border controls to fix a horticulture labour shortage.

Growers around the country are facing a crisis like they've never seen before.

Usually, about 14,000 workers come into the country to work the apple season, taking part in the Recognised Seasonal Employer scheme.

But there's only about 6000 in the country from last season, and not all of them want to stay in New Zealand.

Speaking in Hastings on Tuesday after meeting local growers, Minister of Immigration Kris Faafoi said ideas like getting workers direct from countries free of COVID-19, or isolating outside of managed facilities, were too risky.

"We've heard those messages, and we've been making sure that we're sending the message back to them, to make quite clear that at this stage, that is not an option," he said.

Faafoi said he asked the industry to work with MPI and Immigration to see how they could maximise use of the workers already in New Zealand.

He said there were solutions, such as using students, and the Government had extended working holiday visas.

"We didn't give them any commitments, we're just saying at the moment, 'we want you to do the best with what's here in New Zealand ... and that is a big challenge'.

"If they get to the point where they have worked as a sector to say 'hey look, we still have a need for RSE', then they'll do that, but they've still got a bit of work to do.

"The managed isolation facilities that we've got for the Government at the moment have a capacity of about 7500 every couple of weeks. That is the filter that everyone must go through to make sure we keep COVID out of the country."