Forestry contractor calls for minister’s resignation over visa delays

From Checkpoint, 5:08 pm on 2 July 2019

A Gisborne forestry contractor is calling for Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway's resignation, saying delays in processing migrant worker visas are costing the industry hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Jason Koia currently employs 24 fulltime workers, 10 of them are from overseas. He is still looking for up to 40 more planters this season, and told Checkpoint he was being stymied by unreasonable immigration wait times.

Mr Koia said he paid top dollar - $30 a box of 100 seedlings planted - and some of his workers make $2000 a week.

But despite this, and an extensive local recruitment campaign, he simply cannot get locals to fill the jobs.

The government has set a goal to plant a billion trees by 2028 to support a low emission economy, protect the environment and create ongoing employment.

Mr Koia said he had lost more than $500,000 in gross revenue, having to turn down work because he did not have the people to complete it.

He said it was a similar story for many other contractors in the industry.

Migrant workers were the most productive in the sector and they propped up the industry, Mr Koia said.

"I can state categorically if it wasn't for them our business would probably be in the gurgler.

"Migrant workers are reliable, they're honest, they're trustworthy, they're drug free, they're alcohol free ... they're easy to train and they hit production targets every day. They're fantastic workers."  

He said about 95 percent of local workers did not stay in the industry.

He submitted applications for visas for migrant workers in April and he had not heard anything from Immigration New Zealand since. He understood 90 days was a usual wait time.

"It's just lying dormant, heard nothing at the moment."

However, just before Checkpoint went to air, Mr Koia said he had just heard that his visa applications had finally been accepted.

Mr Koia said there was no way the the one billion trees target could be met, with wait times and costs for visa applications having increased in recent years.

"It's not going to happen," he said. "This government's dreaming."

He said the whole thing was a mess and Mr Lees-Galloway should step down.

Iain Lees-Galloway.

  Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway. Photo: Supplied.

Immigration NZ (INZ) said essential skills visa volumes were "materially up" which has caused a backlog in applications.

It said it was putting resources into increasing processing capacity

Mr Lees-Galloway said in a statement he had raised his concerns with INZ and they were regularly reporting to him.

"I expect them to be fully focused on improving visa processing times."

'I'm not going to give up on training the rangatahi' - Shane Jones

Regional Economic Development Minister Shane Jones, also Forestry Minister, Infrastructure Minister, Associate Finance Minister, Associate State Owned Enterprises Minister, Associate Transport Minister

Shane Jones Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

Forestry and Regional Economic Development Minister Shane Jones told Checkpoint he heard the concerns of forestry contractors loud and clear, but that the government was "stuck between two poles".

On one hand it was essential that young New Zealanders were able to get jobs that could turn their lives around.

But on the other hand he said he was not willing to say "bugger them" and give up on young people and go to the Pacific for workers.

"The reality is I'm not going to give up on training the rangatahi."

The sector was meeting its planting targets, Mr Jones said, but he would continue his efforts at lobbying Mr Lees-Galloway to get visa application processing speed up.