Queenstown bosses wary of visa crackdown

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Some local bosses are lukewarm about new immigration law changes that govern overseas workers. 

With the resort’s reliance on transient workers to fill low-paid jobs, there’s now a greater onus placed on employers to check that their foreign staff have approval to work. 

Under the revised Immigration Act, ratified last November, bosses must take extra care to ensure their overseas workers have proper work permits. 

Employers who innocently hire staff without one are fined up to $10,000. If they knowingly sign up illegal workers, the fine is $50,000. 

Wakatipu New World supermarket boss Anthony King says foreigners make up a “sizeable minority” of his workforce – yet he rates the introduction of the new law as “patchy”. 

“It’s fair to say frontline staff at Immigration have been really helpful, though there hasn’t been a whole lot of further communication on top of that.” 

Gold Ridge boss Penny Clark says resort hotels are major employers of foreign nationals yet some haven’t got to grips with the changes. 

“I guess half the hoteliers in town seem to be aware of them – and the other half aren’t. I don’t think we’ve actually got our heads around it totally,” Clark believes. 

However, cleaning company A Woman’s Touch – which employs 25 overseas workers – rates the way Immigration’s handled everything. 

Human resources boss Alison Howie says: “I’d give Immigration 10 out of 10.” 

There are also mixed reactions to procedural changes accompanying the new law. Howie welcomes amendments to the work permit extension process, allowing employees to keep working while permits are renewed. 

“Under the old law, when their work permit expired, we had to put them off work – and they could be off for a month with no income,” she says. 

But hotel industry veteran Clark is wary of the new system: “I think it’s taking longer.” 

Immigration is partly to blame, she says. 

“They can’t get through the workload because they’re short-staffed.”