28 May 2020

Phil Twyford answers questions on foreign workers entering NZ

From Checkpoint, 5:22 pm on 28 May 2020

While our borders remain basically closed to every one but New Zealand citizens and permanent residents to prevent Covid-19 cases being imported,

Hundreds of foreigners have actually been allowed into the country under special exemptions.

More than 2,200 workers have been granted exemptions - some of them on economic grounds.

So what is the criteria and what industries are deemed essential?

"I've signed off on what is actually a very narrow range of criteria for exemptions for what's called 'other essential workers'. I've signed off 22 applications over the last month, and that's about 154 individuals," Economic Development Minister Phil Twyford told Checkpoint.

Approved applications include a diverse range of jobs, like a technical specialist who installs lifts at ski fields, and a specialist ultrasound technician scanning ewes to determine pregnancy, he said.

Fifty-six of the 154 people allowed in are working in film production.

"There are three main principles officials apply when they assess these applications. The first is that the person seeking the exemption has to have some kind of specialist skill or talent that can't be filled from within New Zealand," Twyford said.

The second element is whether the job is time-critical, and the third is an assessment of the economic value of the person entering New Zealand at the moment, he said.

"Some of these productions are seeing hundreds of millions of dollars invested, and sometimes hundreds of jobs."

The workers have entering New Zealand have to be quarantined for 14 days, at the cost of their companies, Twyford said.

On Air New Zealand refunds

A new survey has revealed Air New Zealand's has millions of dollars of customer money that it is not refunding, despite the flights never taking off.

The survey, by Consumer NZ, found the 1,700 respondents had paid a total of $3.8 million for their flights.

Twyford deffered questions to Consumer Affairs Minister Kris Faafoi, but as Transport Minister he did say: "The government's not altogether happy with what's been going on in relation to this with Air New Zealand.

"We've got work underway with out Civil Aviation Bill which is a major overhaul of our civil aviation legislation. It covers a wide range of different issues.

"I've agreed that officials should look at this issue, reporting on the content of possible reforms to Minister Faafoi."