Farmers: Migrant labour still needed

Immigration Minister Michael Woodhouse
Immigration Minister Michael Woodhouse

Federated Farmers has welcomed the government's promise of continued access to migrant labour where it's needed.

"We're pleased that within the suite of changes announced by Immigration Minister Michael Woodhouse today, farmers, especially in the dairy industry, will continue to have access to migrant workers in situations where there are insufficient New Zealanders available to fill vacancies," national board member Andrew Hoggard said last week.

"However, we have concerns with the current process and some of the proposed changes."

Immigration was vitally important to agriculture, which was grappling with increasing urbanisation taking available labour away from rural areas.

In the foreseeable future farms would continue to rely on migrants for part of their workforce, despite a number of initiatives to attract more New Zealanders.

"Finding enough New Zealanders is a tough nut to crack, because we are not just asking to them to come and work on a farm, often in a remote location, but also, in many cases, to move away from their families to rural areas where they have no existing contacts or support networks," Mr Hoggard said.

"Immigration is putting pressure on Auckland infrastructure, but in rural areas the opposite is true. Migrants make a vital contribution to local schools, social organisations and community groups that would be struggling without them. They also increase the base from which our rural roads and utilities are funded."

Federated Farmers welcomed proposed changes to the skilled migrant category for residency, however. Mr Hoggard said the current skilled migrant occupation classification was a blunt instrument that did not account for highly skilled farm employees, and made it virtually impossible for them to achieve residency.

"The upper salary threshold of approximately $73,000 will mean that some farm managers who are highly sought after, and therefore highly paid, will at least be able to entertain the prospect of long-term residency. This new initiative will be of great benefit to migrants and the agricultural sector," he said.

"We are also pleased with the announcements around the one-off pathway to residency for some South Island employees, as previously signalled by the Minister in 2015. This will apply to many dairy farm workers who have contributed to the industry and the community for a number of years, but are not yet able to claim skilled migrant category status."

Federated Farmers would work closely with Immigration NZ in the implementation of the changes announced for temporary essential skills visas. It was concerned about the implications of the three-year cap on temporary migrants, but acknowledged that salaries for entry level staff would increase over the three-year tenure.

"In many rural areas there are just aren't New Zealanders to employ; in a lot of cases, when farmers seek applicants from Work and Income NZ, no one is put forward for the job," he added.

"In that instance I'm concerned about the prospect of a migrant being forced to leave after three years, after they have worked hard to develop a core set of skills, just for the farmer to have to employ another migrant because there are no New Zealanders available.

"It may be that over the course of the three years employed on the farm the migrant's salary is increased to a point where the cap will not be enforced, but we have to work with Immigration NZ on that."

- Northland Age

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