The Government's axed a planned 1600 increase in the number of migrant seasonal workers allowed into the country next year as it now believes "more New Zealanders will be available to do this work".
Immigration Minister Ian Lees-Galloway last year announced a more than 3150 increase in seasonal workers across two years, which would have taken the total number up to 16,000 by next year. The planned increase of 1550 workers this year went ahead (taking the total to 14,400), but the proposed 1600 increase for next year now won't go ahead.
The reversal of the change was contained within an announcement from Lees-Galloway on Wednesday announcing some support measures for the around 9000 seasonal workers who are still here because they've been stranded by the border closures.
On the decision to effectively cut by 1600 the number of migrant seasonal workers next year Lees-Galloway said: "We are facing a rise in unemployment among New Zealanders and we expect more New Zealanders to be available for work next season.
"For this reason, the Government has decided to keep the RSE [Recognised Seasonal Employer] scheme annual cap at 14,400 for the next year.
"This is not what we originally announced and planned but we anticipate that more New Zealanders will be available to do this work next year so we could not justify another increase of the cap as we originally planned.
"I want to give employers in the horticulture and viticulture industries as much certainty as possible in uncertain times, so I have taken the decision now even though next seasons workers will only be able to enter New Zealand when it is safe to relax border restrictions," Lees-Galloway said.
In terms of the support measures for the 9000 workers stranded in New Zealand, Lees Galloway said:
- Stranded RSE workers will be able to work part-time (a minimum of 15 hours per week) and with no limit on roles that they can do.
- The workers will need to have an employment agreement with an RSE employer, who will need to continue to honour commitments under the RSE scheme.
- Any additional time an RSE worker spends in New Zealand will not count towards the time they would ordinarily have to spend overseas before they can return for seasonal work.
"The Government is supporting Pacific Island governments to repatriate their citizens but many are expected to remain in New Zealand for some time.” Lees-Galloway said.
"RSE visas limit workers to specific work, which is now drying up despite the Government already supporting workers to move to new RSE employers unable to bring in migrant workers as the borders are closed.
"The RSE scheme is part of our special relationship with the Pacific. As a country, we have a responsibility to support these workers and their employers, whose pastoral care responsibilities include accommodation for the workers."
The latest changes announced by the minister followed a series of changes announced by him on Tuesday, with 16,500 workers who were due to have employer-assisted temporary work visas expire by the end of this year, seeing those visas extended by a further six months, while 600 lower-skilled workers due to be subject to the 12-month stand-down period (in which they would have to leave the country) have seen this period shifted from August this year to February 2021.