The Government has granted border exceptions for 500 dairy farm workers, farm assistants, herd managers and assistant farm managers and their families.
So far, 200 places have been snapped up by farmers.
However, Federated Farmers immigration spokesman Chris Lewis says farmers need to get their applications in through DairyNZ quickly. He says, if the remaining 300 places are snapped up quickly, then the sector can go back to the Government seeking border exceptions for the remaining 1200 workers urgently needed on farms.
“If it takes two months for farmers to take the 300 slots left, then it will be hard for us to advocate to the Government for more overseas workers before calving,” he told Rural News.
“Our message to farmers who need overseas workers is that this is a call for action – use it or lose it. Let’s exhaust the 300 available slots within two weeks.”
Lewis says his phone has been running hot over the past few weeks as farmers deal with resignation notices from March 1 and organise staffing for the new season.
The basic requirement for an overseas farm assistant is that the person must be paid a minimum of $28/hour. Farmers must also provide accommodation.
The 500 workers and their families don’t need to self-isolate.
The first 200 workers and their families will also be eligible to apply for residence. Lewis expects dairy workers from all over the world to apply for jobs in NZ.
He says the pay rates may put some farmers off but overseas workers are urgently needed.
“We have to use the 300 border exceptions available or lose it,” he says. “If we don’t use it, it will make us look stupid; we’ve been whinging about the need for overseas workers for the past two years.”
DairyNZ chief executive Tim Mackle says farmers who want farm assistants on board for calving are encouraged to apply now for one of the 300 spaces.
He warns that there is no guarantee there will be another opportunity to recruit international workers before calving.
“With workers no longer required to isolate or stay in MIQ and no cap on the number of farm assistants within that 300, we expect stronger interest from farmers using the class exception pathway,” he says.
DairyNZ says the Government’s decision to allow just 300 more international dairy farm workers into New Zealand doesn’t do enough to help resolve the sector’s significant staff shortage.
In November, the dairy sector requested government allow 1500 dairy workers into New Zealand in 2022 – but only 300 spots have been granted.
Mackle says the Government’s decision is a bitter disappointment for many under-pressure dairy farmers who are anxiously facing yet another season critically short-staffed.
“We have really appreciated the continued support of Minister O’Connor and also MPI who have advocated on this important issue for almost two years – but it would seem some of their colleagues in Government just aren’t listening and farmers are frustrated by that.”