Immigration red tape frustrates short-staffed farmers

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Federated Farmers says the dairy industry is short of 2,000 workers. Archive photo
Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

A Northland farmer fears that due to the red tape of immigration, an experienced German dairy farmer will walk away from a vacancy she urgently needs to fill.

Katrina Pearson said applying for a work visa under the Accredited Employer Scheme was a bureaucratic nightmare.

She runs a 250-hectare dairy farm west of Whangārei, where she milks nearly 500 cows.

Pearson needs two full-time employees, but she’s having trouble recruiting.

When the borders opened in July, she thought her prayers had been answered.

She contacted a former staff member who had returned to Germany on a Covid flight.

That was the easy part.

“The contact or lack of ability to contact someone in an Immigration office is quite awkward to begin with and I ended up on hold for an hour and 20 minutes one day and I gave up and the next day it was 45 minutes and I gave up,” Pearson said.

“I mean, I have a farm to run, too, so I can’t just sit on the phone and wait for someone to answer.”

Obtaining an accredited employer work visa is a three-step process.

Before the candidate employee applies for a visa, the candidate employer must first be approved and a job check must be carried out – with the vacancy being advertised locally for two weeks.

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Pearson made a mistake in the job checking process.

“She [Immigration] had confirmed there was enough detail in the job posting and yesterday I emailed them to say I know the two weeks are over tomorrow so what’s next – I’ve had no successful applicants. And then they answered and said that your vacancy is not enough, you need to advertise for another two weeks.

“It was pretty heartbreaking to get that news as you head into the holiday season and the only member of staff I have I want to give him some time off over Christmas and New Years and if I don’t have Felix here by then we won’t be free from both.”

Federated Farmers immigration spokesperson Richard McIntyre said many of its members were annoyed by the lack of clarity surrounding the Accredited Employer Work Visa application process.

“From an agricultural point of view, we’re talking about people who are understaffed and have been for a while, especially when this first started, at calving, there were a lot of tired people who could potentially miss a few details and get back in a couple of weeks without staff as a result, so there is quite a bit of frustration there.”

The dairy sector alone was short of 2,000 workers and farm owners were feeling the pressure, he said.

“The system is starting to get a bit tense, everyone is reaching a little breaking point here, so we need to bring in more of these migrants, we also need backpackers to provide cover, just to give the farm teams and the employers or farm owners some more free time and a chance to reset.”

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McIntyre was convinced that the teething problems with the Accredited Employer Work Visa would eventually go away and that it would be better than its predecessors.

Work visa application form

Katrina Pearson said she had already spent $1,500 on the visa process to get an employee from Germany.
Photo: RNZ/Samuel Rillstone

Nicola Hogg, general manager of immigration, border and visa operations, said hard work is underway to process a high volume of visa applications.

“To help employers adapt to the new Accredited Employer Work Visa policy and recognize the current unprecedented job market, we continue to take a pragmatic approach, including contacting employers to expedite the process and receive information faster.

“This will help ensure that applications for a job check are reviewed and decided more quickly, while giving employers the opportunity to resolve any issues with their application before the migrant applies for a work visa.”

If an applicant or employer had not provided all relevant information, it could impact the Immigration Department’s ability to process the application in a timely manner, Hogg said.

“There have been instances where employers have failed to properly advertise the positions to meet Immigration Instructions, despite completing all required declarations with the application confirming that they meet all aspects of the Job Check Instructions. The main issue mainly relates to not having specified the salary for the position in the ad.”

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That was cold comfort to Katrina Pearson — who’s spent more than $1,500 on the trial so far.

“Felix is ​​still in Germany waiting to get on a plane to get to New Zealand. I’m afraid he decides the process is taking too long and says ‘flag it, I’m going to start dairy farming in Germany because it’s easier and my family is here and I’ve changed my mind.”

According to the numbers (Source Immigration NZ)

The work visa for accredited employers has three phases:

Since May 2022, when applications for employer accreditation opened, 14,576 have been received. Of these, 13,999 were approved and two rejected. Applications are processed on average within five working days.

Since June 2022, when Job Check applications opened, 15,378 applications have been received. Of these, 14,142 were approved and 11 rejected. Applications are processed on average within four working days.

Since July 2022, when Accredited Employer Work Visa applications opened, 22,033 have been received. Of these, 11,351 were approved and 35 rejected. Applications are processed on average within 16 working days.

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