Five-day work permit turnaround on way

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Work permit renewal delays are catching out foreigners – and their bosses.

They probably have the old 48-hour turnaround in mind. However, officials hope in a few weeks to be processing applications within five days.

Immigration New Zealand, part of the Labour Department, says that since the end of January its Queenstown office has decided 84 per cent of work permit applications within 15 days.

This is the fastest of any branch within New Zealand.

Until the office clears a backlog, however, INZ advises applicants to allow up to 30 days for processing.
INZ expects its Queenstown office to receive about 5500 temporary work permit applications in the current June year.

These are mainly to fill lower-skill jobs that keep hotels, motels and other tourism businesses running.

Queenstown lawyer Darryl Gunn, who spends much of his time on work permits, visas, and overseas investor arrangements, has found a marked increase in the number of difficulties with work applications.

“The reasons why applications are declined have been numerous, but most weren’t reasons that existed before the economic downturn.”

The longer processing time caught many foreign workers and their employers unawares, Gunn told BizScene.
Working without a permit is illegal.

Leiser da Silva, a Brazilian worker with the City Impact Queenstown church, also thinks work permits have become harder to get in the past six months. Probably about 2000 Brazilians have been working in the resort. He still meets a few new arrivals from Brazil.

The 48-hour turnaround began under a 2004 ministerial directive to help meet a labour shortage.

INZ says the Ministry of Social Development declared the Wakatipu district had an “absolute labour shortage”.

This meant no checks were needed to ensure New Zealanders weren’t available to fill the jobs.

Early last year the Department of Labour agreed with Queenstown employers that it would try to process 90 per cent of work permit applications within five days. This goal is unique to Queenstown, just as the 48-hour turnaround was.

From last July, however, the Government required work permit offers for semi-skilled and unskilled jobs to be checked with Work and Income to assess availability of local workers.

INZ says it is working with employers and Work and Income to monitor the Wakatipu labour market and balance employer demand with protection of New Zealanders’ job opportunities.

A senior INZ official last month met Queenstown hotel, restaurant and tourist industry representatives and Work and Income officials.

INZ says it’s confident the Queenstown processing backlog will be eliminated within the next few weeks. It warns, however, that balancing permits against jobs for New Zealanders will be an increasing challenge over the next year.

Short-term labour schemes for Pacific Islanders for orchards and horticulture are also subject to availability of NZ workers.

Backpackers work under schemes reciprocal with their own countries.

INZ told BizScene that a review last year showed backpackers spend on average 6.2 months in New Zealand, working for 3.6 months. Brazil and New Zealand don’t have such a scheme.

Neill Birss will chase up your biz tips: neillb@maxnet.co.nz