Rules can stop farmers hiring migrants

How easy is it to employ migrant workers in our agricultural sector?  This headache still persists for farmers and it has become harder - farmworkers are no longer recognised on the Skills Shortage List. 

Imagine this scenario:

Jo runs a farm with a herd of 550 cattle and some months ago, his Farm Manager told him that his work visa was due to expire.  Jo was pleased with his Farm Manager and wanted to retain him.  They then started the process for a new work visa application - a fairly easy exercise, or so Jo thought.

The response back from Immigration New Zealand (“INZ”) was not good – Farm Managers had now been removed from the latest Skills Shortage List published by INZ.   This meant that Jo had to prove that he could not recruit any suitable NZ workers.  Jo had already undergone a lengthy process to sponsor his migrant Farm Manager to New Zealand over 18 months ago so the last thing he wanted was to lose him. 

It was a stressful time.  Jo needed to advertise the Farm Manager position to demonstrate that no NZ workers could be recruited.  This created uncertainty all round.  The Farm Manager’s current visa had nearly expired which would then make him ineligible to work in New Zealand, and he was unsure whether he would retain his position. Jo had no certainty about the assistance he would have for his farm.  Luckily, the application was ultimately approved.

Unless a position is listed on an INZ Skill Shortage List, before employing a migrant, employers must prove to INZ that there are no other NZ workers who can do the job.  This is an awkward process, (particularly when a migrant is already doing the work and wants to continue on) which requires advertising the position, and (in some cases) obtaining a ‘Skills Match Report’ from WINZ (even when the position has been filled by a migrant for some time). 

If potential candidates do apply, the farmer must then assess their skills (by interview or other means) and then explain to INZ’s satisfaction why a particular candidate is not suitable. Whether an existing migrant employee is well regarded by their employer, or has specialist skills or experience gained while working for their sponsoring employer is irrelevant.

What this creates is uncertainty and unnecessary paper work for employer farmers, particularly where farm labour needs to be secured before the season start. 

The Government acknowledges the huge contribution farming makes to our economy. The process needs to be streamlined and simplified. 

Farming positions should be retained on the Skills Shortage List to facilitate these applications for farmers.  There would then be no need to have to advertise or go through such a time-consuming exercise.   It would also minimise the stress experienced by farmers already dealing with other challenges on the farm.

The content of this document is necessarily general and readers should seek specific advice on particular matters and not rely solely on this document. 

If you would like more information on any of the topics in this document, please contact your usual Auld Brewer Mazengarb & McEwen adviser. 

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Diana Koorts