A new process to fast-track the work visa applications of skilled migrant workers is proving slower than the one it replaced, leading to concerns of a worker shortage in the new season.
Immigration NZ (INZ) is taking between six and 10 weeks to process Accredited Employer Workplace Visa (AEWV) applications, a process introduced in October last year to accelerate processing of this class of visa.
“It is slower than the previous scheme and my members are telling me it was easier during covid to get an airline ticket and a place in MIQ for a foreign worker than dealing with this,” Rural Contractors NZ chief executive Andrew Olsen said.
Rural Contractors NZ, the Meat Industry Association and BusinessNZ said Immigration NZ needs to improve its performance.
Olsen said he believes delays are due to the requirement that employers, even though they are accredited, must advertise and prove there are no New Zealand residents available who want the job.
Sources said this requirement was introduced after an INZ whistle-blower revealed some migrants were arriving in NZ to find that the jobs they were promised were not available.
Olsen said depending on the season, his sector may need up to 500 specialist machinery operators.
This is the first year it has operated under the policy and he is unequivocal about what should happen.
“The piece that needs to be thrown out, not overhauled, but thrown out, is the job check requirement.
“Employers have to go through the time and expense of advertising a role to NZ residents that no one is going to apply for.”
Being a regulation, it can be easily changed, a point he has made to prime minister-elect Christopher Luxton.
A government requirement of those accessing skilled migrants is that they must pay rates at or above the median wage, which Olsen said has driven up wages.
In February the median pay rate for the sector will be $31/hour.
The Alliance Group told farmers at a road show this week that it is concerned it may be unable to source the required number of skilled migrants.
Meat Industry Association chief executive Sirma Karapeeva said her members are experiencing delays in the processing of skilled migrant visas, which the MIA has raised with INZ.
With the prospect of a dry summer looming, Karapeeva said, processors need to ensure they have capacity to meet any increase in processing demand.
“We appreciate the challenges the department is facing, but the lack of visibility on when the delays will be resolved is a concern.
“Processors need certainty to plan their business operations, and in turn inform farmers about processing capacity for the upcoming summer.
“Our industry is still experiencing severe skill shortages, and this is where access to skilled staff through the immigration channel is vital.”
Rachel Simpson, BusinessNZ’s education, skills and immigration manager, said companies have found INZ is not meeting their expectations.
“Businesses need an effective and efficient immigration service to get the international skills and talent they need, at the right time,” she said.
“Particularly for seasonal work and exporters, the lead-in times and planning for the workforce are critical to make sure companies can maximise production and quality.”
INZ director visa Sarah Clifford said there have been adjustments to the assessment approach to the AEWV.
“We are making more requests for further information from employers to confirm job vacancies are current, vacancies are genuine and whether employers can support the migrants they plan to hire.
“This necessarily increases the time taken to process employer accreditation and job-check phases of the AEWV.
“Our advice to businesses is to allow at least six weeks to apply for an accreditation and six weeks to apply for a job check with current processing times.”