Monday, February 26, 2024

Call for minister’s intervention as illness sees migrant farmer face relocation

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Federated Farmers representative says NZ should not be turning its back on someone who has proven their worth as a skilled worker and a valued member of the community.
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A Filipino dairy worker who’s committed himself to our agriculture sector and made this country his home deserves to be “shown some heart and common decency,” Federated Farmers says. 

For 10 years, Noland Kinney has worked on Rotorua Lakes and South Waikato district dairy farms and contributed to his community, with his temporary visa being rolled over in that time.  

However, the 53-year-old now has a chronic kidney issue and Immigration NZ has ruled he doesn’t meet health criteria to qualify for residency.

His visa expires in six months, and his last chance is an appeal to the Immigration and Protection Tribunal or intervention by the Minister.

Federated Farmers dairy chair Richard McIntyre is urging Immigration Minister Erica Stanford to allow Kinney to stay.

“New Zealand should not be turning its back on someone who has proven their worth as a skilled worker and a valued member of the community.

“He’s paid his taxes and done everything right but now there’s a question mark over potential future health costs and he faces being booted out.

“He’s earned the right to be shown some heart and common decency.”

In a letter to the Minister, McIntyre says Federated Farmers have long advocated for New Zealand to forge a reputation as an attractive base for retaining agricultural migrant workers who’ve shown themselves to be assets to their industry. 

“Skilled and dedicated workers, like Mr Kinney, ensure the agricultural workforce is provided for now and in future. These ‘new New Zealanders’ form an integral part of our industry’s future; likewise, their families play an invaluable role in revitalising rural communities.

“Despite our ongoing efforts, we have noted limited progress from various governments in this area.”

McIntyre’s letter says Federated Farmers is “saddened and frustrated” by Kinney’s situation.

“The Acceptable Standard of Health policy appears to operate with no ability for discretionary decision-making, especially where there are questions over the imminence of the ‘risk to public health’. 

“Operation of this policy does not provide incentive to migrant workers to dedicate themselves to our workforce. It’s our fear that this is yet another mark against New Zealand in attracting and retaining much-needed and much-valued migrant workers.”

Kinney’s doctor told Immigration NZ (INZ) that Kinney remains fully active, working full-time.

“I feel he will have reasonably stable kidney function going forward from here and may not need dialysis for at least five years.”

However, INZ’s medical officer disagreed and believes dialysis will be needed within that timeframe, imposing “significant costs” on health services.

Kinney says New Zealand is now his home. His mother died in 2020 and none of his siblings remain in the Philippines. His wife’s family have lived in Tokoroa for 27 years and the couple’s children have grown up here.

McIntyre is asking the Government to look at establishing residency options for agricultural workers who have become “new New Zealanders”.

Chris Stevens, with her partner Chris Haworth, has employed Kinney on a farm in South Waikato and now, for the last two-and-a-half seasons, as an assistant manager on a farm near Rotorua. 

A “reliable, steady worker, dedicated to his family” is how she describes Kinney.

“He travels back to his family in Tokoroa on his days off, so the kids’ schooling isn’t disrupted.”

Stevens says Kinney’s kidney issues don’t seem to slow him down.  

“For his age he’s incredibly fit; he doesn’t let you down in that regard.”

She says it’s been difficult to find suitable staff over the last five years, with only a recent improvement in availability.

“I think Noland should be allowed to stay and continue working. My feeling is for his kids – New Zealand is all they’ve known.”

As well as asking the Minister to intervene, McIntyre is asking the Government to look at establishing residency options for agricultural workers who have become “new New Zealanders”.

What we have now “lends itself to a brain-drain”, he says.   

“Not having a clear pathway for residency for retaining long-serving migrant workers means New Zealand employers lose any investment they make in their training.

“The current system has created a perfect breeding ground for a skilled workforce for other countries to capitalise on. In short, our loss is their gain.”

McIntyre told Farmers Weekly that Federated Farmers appreciates it’s a balancing act for the Government in terms of skill shortages, the desire to get unemployed Kiwis into work and pressure on infrastructure and housing if migrant workers end up in our larger cities.

However, difficulties attracting suitable staff to rural areas remain a significant problem.

Bonding migrant workers to individual employers can create a risk of exploitation, but there may be scope for bonding workers to regions, or to industries with proven workforce gaps.

The National/NZ First coalition agreement includes commitments to “improve the Accredited Employer Work Visa” and to “investigate the establishment of an ‘Essential Worker’ workforce planning mechanism to better plan for skill or labour shortages in the long term”.

“Federated Farmers would welcome any opportunity to sit down with government representatives to discuss better ways forward,” McIntyre says.

A support page has been launched to help Kinney with legal costs.

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