Thursday, April 25, 2024

Residency visa pathway welcomed

Neal Wallace
The smiles returned to the faces of Jason Herrick’s two Filipino workers this week for the first time in months.
Reading Time: 3 minutes

The smiles returned to the faces of Jason Herrick’s two Filipino workers this week for the first time in months.

They were responding to news the Government is creating a one-off residency visa for migrants who met set criteria, a move that has been welcomed by the worker-short primary sector.

Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor estimates 9000 migrants will be eligible to apply.

“Across rural New Zealand migrants are demonstrating their value to our economy and particularly during these covid times.

“We need to make sure we show how we value these people and in doing so retain them.”

Farm and horticulture employers and meat processors have been unable to source or have lost migrant staff, frustrated at the lack of certainty since the Government stopped processing residency applications early last year.

But for Herrick, it has created a new problem.

The Southland dairy farmer says two Filipino workers have resigned, unable to get residency and having not seen their families for two years.

They were to finish work in two weeks, but the residency announcement means they want to stay.

“It was nice to see a smile on their face. I haven’t seen them smile for so long because these guys have been stuck in limbo.”

He has since employed two replacement workers, leaving the two Filipinos out on a limb as the residency visa has come too late.

“It is good news and positive for migrants in NZ,” says Herrick.

“The bad news is that it is five months’ too late for a lot of businesses and a lot of people who have left the country.”

The policy enables migrants who meet certain criteria to apply for a one-off 2021 Residents Visa.

The meat industry has welcomed the news.

“The residence pathway will deliver much-needed certainty for our people and support the industry to continue maximising export revenue for the benefit of New Zealand,” says Sirma Karapeeva, chief executive of the Meat Industry Association.

“Without this pathway, many of our people, including halal butchers, faced losing their right to stay in New Zealand.”

Federated Farmers board member Chris Lewis says the policy follows 18 months of lobbying by industry representatives and farmers. 

He says progress was finally evident from about June or July of this year but cannot say what prompted the Government’s change in direction.

DairyNZ chief executive Tim Mackle estimates about 4000 dairy workers will be able to apply for the visa, but that still leaves the dairy industry short of between 2000 and 4000 workers.

Mackle says those able to apply for the visa include dairy cattle workers, those who have worked in dairy roles for three years or more, or workers who have been here for a shorter timeframe but on a higher skills visa, earning above $27 an hour.

Dairy workers who are granted a class exception visa and will enter the country over coming months are also eligible.

“We have a significant number of international dairy workers in New Zealand who have been here for many years.

“They play an essential role in our farm teams and enable dairy to continue its vital contribution to New Zealand’s economy,” he says. 

The announcement come too late for some migrant workers.

Ben De’Ath, the managing director of The Regions – Immigration Law and Recruitment, says almost five foreign farm workers a week have left NZ since April.

Most have headed for Australia where the Government is promising residency for them and their families after two years working in the sector.

Applications for the 2021 Resident Visa will be open in two phases; on December 1 2021 and March 1 2022 and will be available for migrants who, as at September 29 2021, have either lived in NZ for at least three years, earned above the median wage, are a registered primary sector worker or work in a role on the Long Term Skill Shortage List. 

O’Connor this week also announced October dates for the commencement of quarantine-free travel for RSE workers from Samoa, Tonga and Vanuatu.

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