Call to speed up migrant work visa process after quake

1:15 pm on 23 November 2016

The head of a major steel fabricator wants Immigration New Zealand to halve the time it takes to process work visas for migrant workers.

A file photo shows a construction worker selecting steel mesh for concrete reinforcement

A file photo shows a construction worker selecting steel mesh for concrete reinforcement Photo: Cultura Creative

The call comes as construction bosses say at least 1000 workers will be needed for the earthquake rebuild, and hundreds will have to be hired from overseas.

Grayson Engineering general manager David Moore said he employed about 150 people, including more than 40 from China and the Philippines.

Mr Moore said he couldn't find enough local skilled workers to keep up demand, and the earthquakes would put extra pressure on companies to fill the jobs with migrant workers.

But bringing them into the country took too long, he said.

"On average, from the day that we offer the job till the day the person arrives here, it's anything from two-and-a-half to three-and-a-half months," he said.

"The first part is you've got to give them a job offer, an employment contract and fill out an Immigration New Zealand 1113 form, which is the employer's form, and then produce evidence of advertising (the job).

"But then the big determining factor on how long it takes from when you make the job offer to when you actually get the employee into your workplace can depend a lot on which immigration office the application's going through, how busy that office is and then sometimes it varies officer by officer."

Mr Moore said the process slowed further from the beginning of December to mid January, when immigration offices ran on skeleton staff.

He acknowledged that the department had to ensure that New Zealanders were employed first, and that it had to do the right checks on people, but he wanted the time cut by several weeks so he could get workers into jobs as quickly as possible.

"In business it's all about making the most of opportunities in front of you, because as everyone knows the construction industry is very cyclic and the day will come in a few years time when the activity level drops off and you're not as busy as what you would be today."

Immigration New Zealand said work visa applications usually took weeks not months.

"For example, in the past year 80 percent of work visa applications decided by our Christchurch office, which covers the whole of the South Island for these types of visas, were decided within 24 days - just over three weeks," it said in a statement.

It urges employers to make a case to Immigration New Zealand for urgent consideration of any application on a case-by-case basis where they could not find New Zealanders to fill specific jobs.

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