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Tourism Minister Stuart Nash MP outlined plans on Monday to reduce New Zealand’s reliance on temporary visa holders and to stymie the population growth that came with it.
Businesses in Queenstown, Wanaka and Central Otago have all experienced problems with recruitment in the tourism, accommodation, hospitality, horticulture and viticulture sectors since the pandemic.
Millbrook Resort director of operations Brian Howie said most employers recognised the need to do more to attract New Zealanders into their industry, but said it was a balancing act.
"The reality is that in Queenstown there are around 2000 ... [fewer] workers now than there were before Covid and we are seeing significant demand for the coming ski season."
He spoke to the Otago Daily Times from Melbourne yesterday, where he was part of a contingent of Queenstown-based tourism operators promoting the resort to the Australian market.
"If we are unable to recruit sufficient staff, whether Kiwis or visa holders, then it will limit our ability to service this demand and put a handbrake on the recovery."
Twelve days ago, his colleague, hotel manager Ross McLean, challenged Mr Nash on this point and stressed the importance of retaining migrant workers.
In response, the minister told those at a Queenstown Chamber of Commerce meeting he saw no reason why visas for those already in the country could not be extended, but ruled out a return to cheap foreign labour once borders reopened.
New Zealand Backpacker Youth and Adventure Tourism Association chairman Brett Duncan said he felt Monday’s speech referred to future immigration aspirations and did not roll back on the minister’s recognition of the problem faced by Queenstown businesses.
He was further reassured when Mr Nash said there were no plans "at this stage" to alter working holiday schemes.
"But we would be cautious about being too fast to limit the low-skilled visas because there are regions like Queenstown where work is seasonal, where we do require people to take on these roles."
Mr Duncan said it could be difficult to encourage New Zealanders to move for seasonal work so low-skilled, temporary visas were useful.