7 Jul 2021

Stretched farmers frustrated at exemption process

8:56 am on 7 July 2021

Dairy workers with exemptions to enter New Zealand will not likely be able to get into the country for months.

North Otago dairy farming around the infected farm.

Farmers are now into calving season. Photo: RNZ / Ian Telfer

The industry has been struggling with labour shortages since the border closed due to Covid-19.

Last month, the government announced 150 workers in management roles and 50 workers in assistant roles on dairy farms would be granted border exemptions to fill the shortage.

But a process to allow those workers into the country is still being worked out between Dairy NZ and The Ministry for Primary Industries.

Advice on MPI's website says bringing a worker in from overseas can take upwards of three months and depends on visa processing timeframes and MIQ availability.

Federated Farmers immigration spokesperson Chris Lewis said calving is underway so the workload is only growing for farmers.

"Farmers desperately want to utilise this scheme and want to be a part of it but they needed workers before calving and now we're not sure if we'll get them in time before Christmas - half of the season would have been gone.

"I'm getting farmers airing their frustration with me daily," he said.

The criteria that has to be met is on MPI's website, it said dairy herd managers must be paid above $79,500 and assistant dairy farm managers must earn about $92,000.

"You should budget for visa applications, flights and managed isolation and quarantine (MIQ) - the total cost of which can exceed $10,000, substantially more if they are bringing in their family," MPIs website states.

Southland dairy farmer Luke Kane said the costs involved make bringing in staff from overseas not viable.

"It would be far to much of a risk for us, realistically to spend $10,000 getting someone here and they may or may not be the right fit, or they could shift on after a couple of months - it's far to much of a risk to fork out that sort of money."

He said at least one in eight farms in Southland are short on labour - but he's lucky he can rely on family to help out with his father stepping out of retirement to do so.

"My father will have to do a bit more work when required if we run short - my parents were in the process of moving off farm and taking a step back but that will be delayed with the way things are at the moment."

Dairy NZ said it's urgently working with Federated Farmers, MPI and Immigration New Zealand to confirm how the process will work including criteria, obligations, costs and timeframes.

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