Friday, December 8, 2023

Farmers wanting migrant labour must follow process

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Growing unemployment means farmers can expect greater scrutiny when applying for migrant labour.
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Conversations Federated Farmers employment spokesman Chris Lewis has had with Immigration officials suggest applicants can expect greater scrutiny as the country looks to employ more New Zealanders in farming roles to reduce jobless rates.

Farmers have to follow the process to the letter by advertising locally and proving there are no New Zealanders available with the necessary skills or experience.

“If you follow the process correctly then you might have a higher chance of getting those visas renewed.

“Now, with unemployment increasing and pressure on the Government to reduce the costs of those benefits you can’t just say there’s no one available – you’ll have to prove it.”

Immigration staff are working to clear the backlog of applications with calving fast approaching. 

Feedback Lewis has had from farmers suggests visas are being approved if the right process is followed.

However, it is likely Immigration NZ will enforce the one-year stand-down rule for workers.

“Immigration NZ have hopefully got their department on steroids processing visas for absolute urgency.”

He estimates there are about 4500 migrant dairy workers in NZ on temporary work visas. 

If a low-skilled workers have been with an employer for at least three years they are more likely to be classed as mid-skilled and more likely to qualify for a three-year work visa.

There are few NZ workers available who fall in that category. When employers fill in the forms they have to make sure their employee is in the correct category.

Lewis said there are between 50-100 skilled migrants overseas waiting to come back into the country and NZ’s borders are still shut despite the Government’s move to covid-19  level one.

It is unlikely those workers will be allowed back into NZ this season.

“These are highly skilled ones, farm manager level, and you can’t just pick them off the street.”

There is less likelihood of New Zealanders being able to fill those roles because most have already got jobs.

He predicts there will be worker shortages when calving starts next month. On Fonterra’s Farm Source there are 760 vacancies across the board.

“How big is the shortfall? If they don’t approve some of the work visas for these migrants that shortfall is going to get massive.”

The industry’s Go Dairy employment campaign has had limited success in finding workers. One farmer he spoke with had 40-50 responses to a vacancy while others struggle, he said.

“It’s been a mixed bag.”

Many of those applying for farm jobs grew up on a farm but chose a different career. They have now found themselves redundant and moved back to farming.

“They have a natural skill set and have been brought up with it and it runs through their veins. Those are the types of people we are looking for. If you still want careers, come back to your roots.”

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