Recognised seasonal employer (RSE) workers from the Pacific Islands will be able to return to New Zealand next month, the Government has announced - but only if they've been vaccinated against COVID-19.
The return of RSE workers from Tonga, Samoa and Vanuatu will start up again in October, and is the first stage of one-way quarantine-free travel to New Zealand from these countries.
COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins and Agriculture Minister Damien O'Connor made the announcement on Friday morning.
"We want to provide certainty to the horticulture industry that we are moving forward with safe quarantine-free travel for RSE workers in time for the upcoming picking season," O'Connor said.
Hipkins says even though there have been no community COVID-19 cases in Tonga, Samoa or Vanuatu, New Zealand needs to take a "cautious approach" as "we know first-hand how quickly Delta can spread if it gets in".
As a result, the Government is putting in place additional health measures for these workers - including a requirement for them to have had at least one dose of the COVID-19 jab before departing for New Zealand.
They will also need to complete a period of seven days' self-isolation on arrival and return negative COVID-19 tests on day zero and day five of their stay.
"We are starting solely with RSE workers for several reasons," Hipkins said.
"RSE workers come to New Zealand in a cohort, and stay in employer-arranged accommodation. This helps mitigate any additional risk from COVID-19 by ensuring they go into self-isolation in a pre-organised place immediately upon arrival."
The Government says up to 14,400 RSE workers normally come through New Zealand each year, with about 10,500 of these being in the country at peak harvesting times pre-COVID.
"Substantial planning has been under way both in New Zealand's horticulture and viticulture sectors and in our partner countries for the arrival of these workers, with some incoming flights deferred in August and September because of New Zealand's alert level 4 settings," O'Connor said.
"We will be closely monitoring this first stage of one-way quarantine-free travel. Our intention remains to broaden eligibility for quarantine-free entry to New Zealand from these countries and Tokelau when we can be sure it is safe to do so.
"In the meantime, other people entering New Zealand from these countries will need to meet existing MIQ requirements."
Details on the first flights carrying RSE workers from the Pacific to New Zealand in October are yet to be confirmed.