New visa set up to bring in specialised workers for post-cyclone rebuild

11:24 am on 24 February 2023
The clean-up continues in Wairoa on 21 February following Cyclone Gabrielle.

Heavy machinery operators are likely to be among those sought for the new visa. Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

The government is setting up a new visa to bring in specialist workers from overseas to assist with the rebuild from Cyclone Gabrielle and the Auckland floods.

"In the short term, we are likely to need experts such as insurance assessors, infrastructure and utilities engineers and technicians, heavy machinery operators, and debris removal workers to support the experts we've already got in country," Immigration Minister Michael Wood said.

Fees will be refunded for successful applicants.

The visas will only last for up to six months.

But Wood said this announcement was unlikely to change global workforce shortages.

"We need to accept the visa may not see the same level of uptake of those in the past - but we understand how important it is to do all we can to relieve pressure on business."

The government would look at further initiatives to bring in more offshore labour once there was a greater understanding of the scope and skills required, Wood said.

Applications will be fast-tracked by Immigration New Zealand, and the aim is to process them within seven days.

Immigration New Zealand will get additional medical assessors, identity specialists, and other resources to help speed up the visa processing.

Wood told Morning Report it was an initial response that would provide a gateway to attract workers quickly.

The government was working on a longer-term response which might involve extending the new visa or making a smoother transition to other visas.

"We believe this tool being very simple and quick will assist in getting workers here."

Wood is also seeking advice on redeploying Recognised Seasonal Employer workers to help with the recovery.

It was too early to estimate the size of the workforce needed and he was hopeful New Zealanders who have lost their jobs because of the cyclone's disruption would be interested in helping with the cleanup.

He acknowledged it would be difficult to house workers arriving from overseas.

Agencies were already working on finding some new accommodation options both for the new workers as well as those in the hardest hit regions who have lost their homes.

Similar visa pathways were used for the responses to the Christchurch and Kaikōura earthquakes.

A spokesperson for Wood's office told RNZ "employers were able to access labour through standard immigration channels for the Kaikōura earthquake, including the Specific Purpose Work Visa, which includes working on an emergency response."

"In the Canterbury rebuild, a temporary Canterbury Skills Shortage List highlighted occupations in shortage that were needed during the rebuild, and facilitated the grant of work visas for those jobs."

The National Party has repeatedly called on the government to loosen immigration settings, including putting workers on the Green List to residency, expanding the Specific Purpose Work Visa, and scrapping planned changes to increase the median wage threshold.

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