Pressure cooker


Immigration changes and staffing pressures may force some Queenstown hospo businesses to shut up shop, a top restaurant boss warns.

And visa processing times have almost doubled, prompting local National MP Hamish Walker to call for central government to “urgently” intervene.

Meanwhile, Labour Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway admits there has been a slow-down, but says work is underway to reduce visa processing times.

High-profile resort restaurant boss Fleur Caulton, the co-founder of Rata and Madam Woo, says immigration compliance costs are rising, and that’s putting pressure on businesses.

“Every time we turn around, something’s going up, and that’s going to make it harder for people to stay in business.”

Attracting staff, and keeping them, is also a major issue. Caulton says a proposed hike in the salary threshold for residency applications will make that worse.

Dunedin’s Madam Woo restaurant closed early this year, and Caulton says that was mainly due to staff shortages.

She reckons if things don’t change, businesses in Queenstown will follow suit.

She’s heard of restaurants not being able to open all of their tables to customers, as they don’t have enough staff to cater for them.

“People are really struggling to run their businesses.”

In November last year, Scene reported the industry was at crisis point due to visa delays, cut-throat competition, and increasing pressure on staff.

Smiths Craft Beer House boss Chris Dickson says nothing’s improved.

He says he’s two duty managers down at the moment, and doesn’t see things getting better any time soon.

Stats provided by Walker show as of last November, 90 per cent of visa applications were to be completed within 64 days. That’s skyrocketed to 120 days.

Walker’s “horrified” by the situation.

“Queenstown businesses are gearing up for their busiest time of year with the ski season fast approaching and these processing times are causing great uncertainty for staff.

“The flow-on impact will mean these businesses do not have the staff to operate at capacity and therefore our tourism sector and our economy will suffer.”

Walker wrote to Lees-Galloway last year asking for an immigration specialist for Queenstown. That was declined.

“Four months to process the majority of visas is not good enough and the Immigration Minister needs to act now.

“I have asked him to urgently look into the current visa processing times and provide some certainty for Queenstown businesses.”

Lees-Galloway tells Scene when he became Minister, he found Immigration NZ wasn’t charging enough to cover the cost of running the immigration system. That’s meant costs have had to rise, he says.

As for visa delays, he says he’s “acutely aware” of the issue.

Immigration NZ has hired more staff, and moved its processing centres back to NZ from overseas, which in the long run should speed things up, he says.

“I’ve signalled to Immigration NZ that it’s something I’m focusing on, and I’m getting regular updates.”

Part of the problem has been a record number of visa applications, he says. He believes businesses, local government and central government need to work together to address things like housing, which are also impacting businesses being able to attract staff.

“If you look at the challenges Queenstown is facing, some of the reasons they do find it hard to attract people is that it is an expensive place to live, and accommodation is hard to come by. The response has to come from everybody.”