24 Jan 2019

Temporary work visas need overhaul - farmers

7:16 pm on 24 January 2019

Farmers say they face having to send skilled workers home in 18 months time because of how their jobs are measured by immigration officials.

This Filipino farm worker In Rakaia has been waiting over three months for his visa to be renewed.

Photo: RNZ / Rachel Graham

Immigrants classed as low-skilled since 2017 have been allowed maximum visas of three years and not been able to sponsor spouses and children.

The changes to temporary work visas were introduced weeks before the last election.

Since then, new visas included a one-year stand-down period for migrant workers after three years working in New Zealand.

The government is exploring alternatives to the limits and is consulting on skills shortages.

Then-immigration minister Michael Woodhouse, who introduced the changes, said the Labour government should think carefully before it changed them or risk creating long-term immigrants with no path to residence.

"If they were to remove those time limits, what it means is there would be tens of thousands more people wanting to stay and who can't, they're in limbo and that was the reason for the changes."

He said farm-related visas were meant to be addressed in follow-up work to his changes on temporary visas - and that the delay is another example of stalled immigration policy work causing drift and uncertainty.

"The farming occupation is in significant difficulty with respect to the three-year limit and I had given an indication to the farming community that a new occupation code - as was done in Australia - would be developed.

"People on very, very high incomes in the farming sector but considered to be low-skilled according to the ANZSCO [Australian and New Zealand Standard Classification of Occupations] codes are now facing a three-year limit, where that was never the policy intent."

Christiaan Arns, who runs a recruitment and immigration agency, said his petition calling for a review of those changes attracted 2000 signatures.

The stand-down period and the removal of study and work rights for a visa holder's family had been enough to deter some applicants and see others relocate to other countries.

Even though the first to leave under the stand-down requirements would be in August next year, he said the uncertainty was already hitting home with employers and staff.

"Instead of sending these people home we should actually keep them here. We would all benefit from that."

Mr Arns said the last time farming professions were updated in the occupation list ANZSCO was in the 1990s.

"It has gone from family-operated dairy farms to seriously intensive corporate dairy farming.

"The industry has changed and the requirement for positions within the industry have changed as well."

Federated Farmers Dairy Industry Group chairperson Chris Lewis said farm work had changed significantly since measures of occupations were last updated 20 years ago.

His two immigrant workers had degrees and others were qualified as vets in their home countries.

"And they're classified as low skilled. It's a little bit demeaning a lot of our migrants tell me."

Immigration New Zealand said the government was consulting on proposed changes to employer-assisted temporary work visa settings to ensure that they reflected genuine regional skill shortages.

Its manager of immigration policy Siân Roguski said part of the consultation involved reviewing the stand-down period.

"In the consultation, the immigration minister has signalled a review of any remaining genuine and significant anomalies in the Australia and New Zealand Standard Classification of Occupations (ANZSCO) system as these relate to immigration settings."

Consultation is open until 18 March and final decisions will be made by the middle of the year.

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