Former Horticulture New Zealand chief executive Mike Chapman says labour shortages and an avalanche of government-sponsored regulations are crippling the sector.
“The government has listened to concerns raised by the sectors and understands their importance for our Covid economic recovery. These changes will help support their ongoing success,” said Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor.
Due to limited space in managed isolation and quarantine (MIQ) facilities, entry will be staggered with workers arriving in New Zealand in groups.
Along with the new border exception, changes will be made to allow 6,000 Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) workers and 13,300 Working Holiday Scheme (WHS) visa holders would be allowed to remain in New Zealand and work in orchards, market gardens and vineyards.
Those on visitor, student and work visas will be allowed to apply for Supplementary Seasonal Employment (SSE) visas if they have a job offer from an eligible employer.
Government will also remove the required police and medical checks for these visa applications.
“This is the single largest economic-based class border exception to date,” O’Connor said.
Horticulture New Zealand’s chief executive Mike Chapman said the industry was pleased with the announcement.
“The 2000 RSE workers is a positive start to addressing current seasonal labour issues but we also need to start planning for spring 2021 and harvest 2022,” he said.
Chapman said that New Zealanders would be the first priority for employment in the horticulture industry.
“While more New Zealanders will be available for picking and packing this season, the industry is still facing a significant shortfall of seasonal workers,” he said.
The border exemption is accompanied by a number of conditions.
Employers must agree to pay workers at least $22.10 an hour and meet the costs attached to their RSE workers’ MIQ stay.
They will also have to pay the equivalent of 30 hours work a week to seasonal workers while they are in MIQ facilities.
Workers will arrive between January and March next year.