New immigration rules would put squeeze on horticulture

9:48 pm on 19 April 2017

The government's new immigration plan will create a high turnover of staff in the horticulture industry and dramatically cut the number of people applying for jobs, according to a Bay of Plenty kiwifruit company.

The government has announced a string of proposed changes to control and tighten immigration numbers.

The move would include a salary threshold for high-skilled migrants, while low-skilled migrants would be made to leave the country after three years and go through a stand-down period before being eligible for another work visa.

Ian Wilson's company, Arian Enterprises, employs 150 people on working visas and harvests, prunes and manages kiwifruit orchards.

He said it would struggle to find staff under the new rules.

"It takes about one-and-a-half to two years to be skilled in pruning and working in the kiwifruit industry. We get them to a good skill level, and then they'll have to go away."

Mr Wilson said he had been forced to look overseas because New Zealanders thought of the jobs as only seasonal.

no caption

Several fruit growers told RNZ they were worried about the rules changes (file). Photo: 123rf

"If there were Kiwis that would like to come and work for me, I'd have them any day.

"I have advertised, I've got advertising running most of the time, I've got advertising running at the moment - and I've had no New Zealanders apply for those jobs."

Other fruit growers, who did not want to be named, complained about the same thing.

Changes 'strike the right balance'

Immigration Minister Michael Woodhouse said people would just need to "work harder" to employ New Zealanders.

"These changes are designed to strike the right balance between reinforcing the temporary nature of Essential Skills work visas and encouraging employers to take on more Kiwis and invest in the training to upskill them."

Other proposed changes included that partners and children of low-skilled workers would no longer be able to automatically enter the country and get visas.

Instead, they would enter the country as visitors and need to meet visa requirements in their own right.

Immigration advisor Daniel Thomson, from Malcolm Pacific, said each of the government's tweaks had an impact.

"If we look at the skilled migrant category, there was quite a big change recently where they increased the points. Has that reduced the number of people applying? Yes, it has. But has it reduced the number of [overall] people applying? No, it hasn't.

"There's a lot of demand for people looking for safe countries for their families to live in."

Opposition parties doubted the new rules would make much of an impact, labelling it an election year bribe.

New Zealand First leader Winston Peters said the rules were "a con".

"If you read them carefully, it's really bureaucratic gobbledy-gook in a shambolic immigration service led by a government that has no clear plan on this matter.

"Immigration numbers must be reduced to near 10,000 net per year."

Labour leader Andrew Little said it would not address the pressure put on major cities.

"I don't see anything in this announcement that's going to make a significant enough difference to take the pressure off a city like Auckland and give us a bit of breathing space."

Public consultation on the changes closes on 21 May, and the government hopes they will be in place later this year.