DairyNZ says the Government decision to extend Essential Skills visas provides some welcome certainty for farmers and employees who have their futures at stake.
Many workers and their employers have been living under a cloud of uncertainty since COVID-19 border closures, and today’s announcement should provide some relief to some of those affected.
DairyNZ chief executive Dr Tim Mackle said the changes are a positive as they will help resolve short-term pressure on some farms.
“It’s great to see the Government is listening and recognises the pressures dairy farmers and other sectors are under,” said Dr Mackle.
“However, it’s important to note this decision doesn’t add more workers into our workforce, so there’s still a gap between what we have and what we actually need. It’s about helping us hold onto the valuable migrant workers we already have.”
Since the closure of the border due to COVID-19, farmers have been crying out for dairy farm staff, with almost 50 percent of farmers reporting unfilled vacancies on farms.
“There are plenty of jobs on farms for Kiwis and migrants but at this time the reality is, not enough Kiwis are applying for jobs. This is despite a recent survey showing 87 percent of farmers had made changes to make their business more attractive to staff, so we need our valued workers from overseas as well.”
From 19 July, Essential Skills Visa holders will be able to apply for a longer visa, enabling them to remain in their current role. The application process for Essential Skills visas will also be simplified for workers remaining in current roles.
Dr Mackle said while that’s a positive step, more needs to be done to ensure sufficient staffing on farms throughout the country for the wellbeing of staff and farmers, and animal welfare.
“This is where our wonderful migrant workers come in. Dairy farmers highly value our overseas workers who become part of our local communities and many help train Kiwis to work on farms.”
DairyNZ and Federated Farmers are working together with the Government to seek further solutions to the staff shortages, which have become desperate on some farms.
“We still have a significant shortage of skilled workers to fill the many vacancies on dairy farms up and down the country. We look forward to continuing our conversations with the Government on longer-term solutions.”
A key solution would be to enable the many migrants waiting for residency to have that status confirmed, giving their families and employers a solid base to build on.
“We’re also calling on the Government to enable dairy farming families who have been split because of COVID-19 to reunite in New Zealand.”
The Government also announced today the new Accredited Employer Work Visa, due to come into effect on 1 November, will be delayed until the middle of next year due to the new arrangements.
DairyNZ was encouraged by last month’s announcement of 200 dairy farm workers being able to come into the country.
Applications are now being taken by DairyNZ at dairynz.co.nz/border for dairy farmers applying for border class exception which could see 200 dairy farm workers and their families come into the country.