Chamber boss: Work visa fees hike ‘not helpful’

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QUEENSTOWN’S Chamber of Commerce leader has branded the Government’s proposed hike in visa fees as “not helpful”, but does not believe it will curb the area’s intake of migrant workers.

Tourism Minister Kelvin Davis announced plans for a new visitor levy last week, which would include a rise in visa fees and immigration levies, as well as a proposed 54% increase in work visa fees.

Although concerns have been raised in the business sector about the effect the increase could have on attracting overseas workers, Chamber chief executive Ann Lockhart said there are “bigger issues than the cost of a visa application that would prevent people coming here”.

Mrs Lockhart said: “It is not a huge amount of money. People that want to come and work here will obviously be willing to pay whatever they need to for a visa.

“On the other hand, it is probably not entirely helpful. Employers are finding it more and more difficult – not because of the price of visas – to find staff.

“That is a culmination of a number of areas, in particular around the cost of living, housing and accommodation affordability here.”

Mrs Lockhart said money gained through the new visitor and immigration levies will “ultimately be a very small contribution to the requirements of a place like Queenstown”.

Fee increases for those on work visas would be up from $355 to $547, which the Government says is part of its plan to raise funds needed to improve border security and visa processing.

The increase in costs for overseas workers would not affect those on working holiday visas, recognised seasonal employer schemes or migrants granted a visa to carry out humanitarian
work.

Chris Buckley, publican and Hospitality NZ Central Otago branch president, said things
were “tough anyway” for migrants coming to work in Queenstown, who often struggle
to find accommodation.

Mr Buckley said: “It’s pretty dismal for the Government to put these fees up, considering they have just moved to an online visa system which is meant to be more effective.

“I think we may lose some hospitality workers. It just makes life a bit tougher for them.

“All of these guys are real useful members of society. They keep it ticking.”

The Restaurant Association of New Zealand said if the fee increases affected people’s decisions to apply for work visas then that would be a “major concern” for the catering industry.

The planned changes, which are expected to be introduced in November, would also include reduced visa fees for students and those coming to New Zealand
on a group visiting visa.

People travelling to the country on a visitor’s visa would pay as much as $76 more under the new scheme.

The changes are expected to bring in more than $160 million over the next five years.

A consultation on the proposals will be open for submissions until July 15.

joshua.walton@scene.co.nz 

-ODT