The Government is stretching its resources to accommodate 2000 seasonal workers set to arrive in New Zealand in January, says Kris Faafoi.
The Immigration Minister told The AM Show on Friday the new border exemptions will test the limits of Aotearoa's managed isolation facilities.
"Two thousand is the maximum because of the capacity of managed isolation - it is extremely difficult to resource increased capacity, and extremely difficult to staff those facilities."
With the country's borders closed due to COVID-19, the horticulture sector is facing a severe worker shortage. On Friday, the Government announced it would allow 2000 recognised seasonal employer (RSE) workers into the country to help close the labour gap.
Normally as many as 14,000 recognised seasonal employer (RSE) workers enter the country to help pick fruit - but COVID changed the game and Faafoi says there are now just 6000 remaining in the country.
"There will be 2000 coming in but we are trying to make sure Kiwis are filling these jobs," he said.
The new workers will enter New Zealand in January, after the peak of New Zealanders returning home for the holiday period has passed.
Faafoi says the goal is to get all 2000 in the same managed isolation facility to avoid "spreading them throughout the country".
While the horticulture sector is certainly breathing a sigh of relief at the announcement, the chief executive of Horticulture New Zealand says it should have been done sooner.
"The 2000 RSE workers is a positive start to addressing current seasonal labour issues but we also need to start planning for spring 2021 and harvest 2022," Mike Chapman said.
"The Government's decision comes after intense lobbying by a number of groups in the sector, including Horticulture NZ, New Zealand Apples and Pears, NZ Kiwifruit Growers Incorporated and Summerfruit New Zealand.
Chapman said the groups would continue working with the Government to "improve future arrangements".