25 October 2006

New Zealand introduces seasonal work policy for Pacific workers

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New Zealand has unveiled a seasonal work scheme aimed at giving Pacific workers priority to fill horticulture and viticulture jobs when no local workers are available.

The country's low unemployment rate has led to severe shortages in the two industries and increased fears that New Zealand would lose its competitive edge unless there was better access to a ready workforce.

Introduced as the Recognised Seasonal Employer Work Visa, the new scheme will be available from April 2007 and eventually replace the seasonal work permit pilot and the Approval in Principle process that allowed the horticulture and viticulture industries to bring in overseas workers.

With 5,000 visas available in the first year, the Government aims to kickstart the visa programme by making it initially available only to citizens of Fiji, Kiribati, Samoa, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu, but it will eventually include all the members of the Pacific Islands Forum.

Applicants for the Seasonal Work visa must still meet health and character requirements, including TB testing where necessary, and show evidence of arrangements to leave New Zealand at the end of their stay.

Employers will need to prove they have made every effort to recruit workers locally and that they are good employers before being able to recruit migrant workers. They will also be required to pay at least the minimum wage to migrant workers and provide half of the worker's air fare.

Immigration Minister David Cunliffe believes the new policy will help ease labour pressures on the agricultural and viticulture industries, whilst protecting the work rights of New Zealanders.

"The scheme will start to transition in from April 2007 – existing policies will initially remain available for employers to recruit workers while the new policy is bedded down," Mr Cunliffe said.

"Given New Zealand's ongoing labour shortages, after confirming there are no Kiwis available, the policy facilitates employers to seek migrant workers from Pacific countries first – before looking to other countries.

"We are prioritising Pacific people as temporary migrants for these industries given our special relationship with and commitment to the Pacific region. This policy will lead to the upskilling of Pacific workers who will then return to their home countries with new experiences and capabilities.

"Pacific workers, as with other migrant seasonal workers, must leave New Zealand at the end of the season concerned. Enhanced facilitation and compliance measures will underpin smooth transitions for workers and employers alike.

"This policy has been carefully designed so that the scheme will further contribute to Pacific development and New Zealand's objectives for economic success and stability in the region."

The Government believes that the threat of Pacific workers overstaying the visa will be negated by option of returning the following season.

Pacific nations have long petitioned for more access for their workers to New Zealand, particularly for unskilled workers, with many families now heavily dependent on income from overseas.


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