Immigration pains not easing

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By TRACEY ROXBURGH

Queenstown’s mayor will request a meeting with Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi to try to sort out pending labour issues in the resort.

While this week’s announcement from Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, that an announcement about the trans-Tasman bubble will be made on April 6, has provided a glimmer of hope for beleaguered businesses in the Whakatipu, it’s again given rise to concerns over capacity within the workforce to service Aussie tourists.

Remarkable Labour boss Ed Stott says there are many examples of overseas workers still in Queenstown but now unable to work.

 

 

 

 

 

 

That’s because they’re on sponsored visas and have been made redundant, but their visas can’t easily be transferred to new employers in different industries.

While the government introduced financial support for migrant workers who’d lost their job because of Covid in December, at the same rate as JobSeeker support payments, Stott says that’s nonsensical.

‘‘Why would the government be handing out free money when all they have to do is think a bit smarter and turn sponsorship visas into an open work permit and then all of a sudden that person can get a job in any industry, doing any job, rather than it being specific to  what they’re sponsored under?

‘‘Then they’re paying tax into the system and not taking money out of the system.

‘‘It’s just so frustrating.

‘‘There are all these people in Queenstown looking for work … but we can’t hire them.’’

Stott says he’s baffled Faafoi still hasn’t been to Queenstown, an area he argues is more heavily reliant on the migrant workforce than anywhere else in the country.

Further, the opening of a trans-Tasman bubble’s ‘‘only going to be beneficial’’ for the tourism and hospo industries if they’ve got the ability to service tourists and make money.

‘‘It’s almost going to do a 180.

‘‘We’re going to go from the problem of having no tourists in Queenstown for the people that were employed in hospitality and tourism to service [to] an influx of Australian tourists, but no one for these businesses to employ to service them.’’

He argues Immigration NZ should treat sponsored visas as open work permits, enabling any holder — who’s already passed a medical and a police check from their home country — to take any job on offer.

Mayor Jim Boult shares Stott’s concerns.

Requesting meeting: Queenstown’s mayor Jim Boult

He says he’s hoping to line up a chat with Faafoi soon to understand ‘‘where the Minister sees the whole migrant work situation’’.

‘‘My best guess is we’ve lost around 1500 to 2000 migrant workers — who’s going to fill those jobs?

‘‘Kiwis have left the district.

‘‘How are we going to recruit [people]?

‘‘We need [migrant workers] and they need to know they’re not going to be kicked out of the country [in a few months].

‘‘I think there’s quite a conversation that needs to happen in that regard.’’

Novotel Queenstown Lakeside boss Jim Moore says the continuing uncertainty for migrant workers is worrisome.

Some of the hotel’s visa-holders have left the company ‘‘because they’re looking at the long term,’’ and while they’ve benefited from visa extensions over the past year, they’re coming to an end.

Moore says some have signed up for student visas so they can stay in NZ longer but, in the
current market, replacing them is getting ‘‘harder and harder’’.

‘‘Our concern is after all the extensions finish towards the end of the year, what is Immigration going to be doing?

‘‘Are they going to clamp down on visas, because that would make life incredibly difficult — even more than it already is.’’

tracey.roxburgh@scene.co.nz