New Year border exception for seasonal workers

The workers will arrive between January and March next year. File photo.

From January next year, up to 2000 experienced seasonal workers from the Pacific will be able to travel to New Zealand to address labour shortages in the horticulture and wine growing sectors.

The workers will arrive between January and March next year.

“The Government has listened to concerns raised by the sectors and understands their importance for our COVID economic recovery. These changes will help support their ongoing success,” says Minister of Agriculture Damien O’Connor.

“Horticulture and wine are among our largest export industries, with total exports valued at $6.5 billion in the last financial year. They also employ around 38,300 New Zealanders, many in regional New Zealand. These seasonal workers will enable the work of these New Zealanders to continue.

“We accept they need help to meet labour shortages that threaten harvests this coming season, so we are acting to allow up to 2000 experienced Recognised Seasonal Employer scheme workers to come to New Zealand from certain Pacific Island countries.

“As there is limited capacity in managed isolation and quarantine facilities, entry will be staggered, with workers coming in groups - starting from January - to avoid peak holiday demand from New Zealanders wanting to return for Christmas,” says O’Connor.

Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi says the new RSE border exception will also help New Zealand’s Pacific Island neighbours whose economies have been hit hard by COVID-19, as their seasonal workers provide important remittances to their homelands.

“This border exception, along with changes allowing around 6,000 RSE workers and up to 13,300 Working Holiday Scheme visa holders to remain in New Zealand and work in orchards, market gardens and vineyards, offers a range of help to address labour shortages in the horticulture and wine industries,” says Faafoi.

“We have also made changes to allow visitor, student and work visa holders currently in New Zealand to apply for Supplementary Seasonal Employment visas if they have a job offer from an eligible employer or if the job is on the Ministry of Social Development list.

"And to streamline the application process, the Government is removing requirements for police and medical checks for these visa applications."

“This is the single largest economic-based class border exception to date,” says O’Connor.

“In agreeing to this, the Government has also made clear its expectation to see industry initiatives which will attract New Zealanders into horticultural work.

“We know the industry is working to address barriers to employing more New Zealanders and we expect to see continued efforts to develop initiatives that will attract Kiwis into horticulture and wine sector work.

“The Government will also work with the sectors to ensure there is an industry-wide plan to make sure that the RSE workers being allowed in from January next year are fully employed and are cared for over the entire length of their contracts."

Next year’s border exception for the 2000 RSE workers comes with conditions which include:

  • agreement from employers to pay workers at least $22.10 an hour
  • employers will meet costs of their RSE workers’ managed isolation
  • the RSE workers will be paid the equivalent of 30 hours work a week while in managed isolation
  • the countries wanting to send experienced RSE workers under this border exception must have agreed plans in place to take back both their workers coming under the border exception as well as other RSE employees already here from their countries when the 2020/21 season ends.

Faafoi acknowledges that fewer seasonal workers will be available than in previous years, but he notes the Government is supporting the industry to make the most of the onshore workforce.

“The announcement by Minister of Social Development, Carmel Sepuloni, to increase support for New Zealanders to work in seasonal jobs with up to $200 per week for accommodation costs and a $1000 incentive payment for workers who complete jobs of six weeks or longer demonstrates the sort of effort being made to get as many jobseekers as possible to work in the horticulture and wine growing sectors.

“These latest changes demonstrate the Government’s continued commitment to make adjustments to visa and border settings where the balance can be struck to protect New Zealanders from the spread of COVID-19, while ensuring supports are in place to protect New Zealand’s economic recovery and offer employment opportunities to New Zealanders who have lost their jobs because of COVID-19.

“We will continue to engage with the primary sector and others to see if and where adjustments might need to be made and can be made safely in the interests of New Zealand businesses and jobs."

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