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Hoping to help: Remarkable Labour bosses Ed Stott, left, and Blair McNaughton who're trying to lure NZers to Queenstown for work through 'Kiwi OE'

By TRACEY ROXBURGH

While calls are being made for Immigration New Zealand to free up the
migrant workforce, and establish region-specific visa extensions, that’s not on the new government’s agenda.

Remarkable Labour directors Blair McNaughton and Ed Stott say there are
dire times ahead for Queenstown — and many other places across the
country, previously reliant on working holiday visa holders, in particular —
unless INZ does an about-face and solves what McNaughton calls ‘‘a ridiculous problem’’.

But a spokesman for Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi says before last
weekend’s election the government was keeping immigration settings ‘‘under review’’ and in discussion with ‘‘various sectors’’.

That had guided changes, the spokesman says, like allowing ‘‘more flexibility with RSE [recognised seasonal employer] workers to enable them to move between regions and employers’’.

The only benefactors from that are the horticulture and viticulture sectors.

‘‘While the process of forming the next government is underway, there are
no plans to ease visa conditions around work visas.’’

‘‘Individuals wanting to change employers or jobs will need to apply for a new visa, or a variation of conditions,’’ the spokesman says.

McNaughton says, at present, they’re having to turn down work because
they can’t get enough staff into jobs in Queenstown, and across Remarkable
Labour’s other sites nationally, including Nelson and Hawke’s Bay, because Kiwis aren’t applying for their jobs, and they can’t redeploy the migrant workers who are.

‘‘The guys that finished at NZSki, they’ve got people sponsored there as
ski technicians, and they’ve still got six months to run on their sponsored
work visa, but they’re not going to find a job over summer as a ski technician.

‘‘They’ve done all their medicals, they’re willing to work, they want to work,
but they can’t go and work for anybody else because that’s what’s stated on
their visa, so they have to go home.

‘‘We could easily put them to work on a building site tomorrow.’’

Stott: ‘‘If you’re sponsored, they know you’ve passed your medical, you’ve passed your criminal record check from your home country, they should almost look at making that sponsorship an open working visa for the term of that sponsorship.

“I understand the need to protect Kiwis, unemployment is a problem and they need to make them a priority, but they [Kiwis] are simply not here.

‘‘It’s like twisting the knife, really — here in Queenstown, obviously during Covid we’ve taken an absolute hammering, and now with domestic travel being so strong at the moment, Christmas and New Year’s going to be huge … but bars are saying they might have to close down for a couple of days a week purely to give staff the time off.

‘‘Again, they’re just missing out on potential income which could have softened the blow from Covid originally.’’

McNaughton says the simple solution is for the government to follow up what it’s done with horticulture and viticulture — granting anyone on a working holiday visa who moves into those industries a six-month extension — but make the extensions region-specific, not industry-specific.

‘‘So if you’re in Auckland, or anywhere, and you’re on a working holiday visa, that’s coming to an end, and you want to stay till June or July next year you have to relocate to Central Otago, Nelson Lakes, Hastings, Hawke’s Bay and get a job in that region.

‘‘Don’t say in a specific industry because it’s every industry in those regions
that’s struggling.

‘‘It’s not horticulture and viticulture — it’s hospitality, it’s tourism, it’s construction, it’s everything.

‘‘The problem is, unless we change that quickly, those visas are going to run out and they’re going to go home — or they’re going to work in horticulture and viticulture, suck everybody out of those regions and all those poor business owners are going to be like ‘I’ve got to close my business — I’ve got heaps of customers, but I’ve got no staff’.

‘‘It’s a ridiculous problem to have.’’

Boult ready for round 2

Queenstown’s mayor Jim Boult says as soon as the dust’s settled in the Beehive he’ll be looking to engage with the new government ‘‘pretty quickly’’ to try to hammer out the immigration issues the district, and many others like it, are facing.

Queenstown’s mayor Jim Boult

Boult says he hasn’t heard of Remarkable Labour’s proposed region-specific visa extension, but supports anything that’ll help migrant workers take on jobs Kiwis aren’t available to do, or don’t want to do.

‘‘We know we’ve lost 1500 migrant workers from the district and that’s 1500 people not around to fill a job and if we have a really, really busy summer period then, yep, we’re going to have some labour shortages.

‘‘I do hope we have one of the busiest summers in years, that’ll be great.

‘‘But it does concern me.’’

Boult says he’s also heard of businesses talking about closing a couple of days a week to give staff a break — an identical situation to the problems faced in Queenstown a couple of years ago during a chef shortage.

‘‘That’s not a good signal to send to people coming to the town to visit.’’

But he says in the past seven months of living with the reality of Covid, we’ve got a better idea of what is, and is not, required.

‘‘I think we’ve moved past the period where we thought we’d have mass unemployment — we’ve still got unemployed — but I’m looking to engage with the new government pretty quickly once everybody has their position to ensure that the country is able to have adequate employees, in the right places, for the right jobs, for the best economic outcome for NZ.’’

tracey.roxburgh@scene.co.nz