The dairy industry has welcomed the Government’s announcement of a one-off residence pathway, but says it does not fully address the scale of staff shortages on farm.
Dairy farmers were still short an estimated 2000 to 4000 workers and it had been a "really tough time" for many farmers, particularly during calving.
A DairyNZ farmer survey showed half of the country’s dairy farmers had been coping with a staff shortage, chief executive Tim Mackle said.
However, the Government’s long-awaited decision to provide a pathway to residency was exciting news for thousands of eligible dairy farm workers, Dr Mackle said.
“We are genuinely delighted for these workers and their families. Many dairy workers can now plan and look forward to a future in New Zealand with their families.
"Their contribution will assist the dairy sector to continue playing a key role in New Zealand’s economy,” he said in a statement.
The 2021 resident visa would be open to an estimated 4000 dairy workers. Anyone working as a dairy cattle worker could apply, along with those working in dairy roles in New Zealand for three years or more, or workers in New Zealand for a shorter timeframe on a higher skills visa earning above $27 an hour.
Dairy workers who were granted a class exception visa and would enter the country over coming months were also eligible.
For the past 18 months, DairyNZ and Federated Farmers had worked closely to ensure the best possible outcome for migrant dairy workers and their employers, Dr Mackle said.
“We appreciate that the Government has acknowledged the pressure farmers are under, due to being short-staffed, and also recognise the critical role international workers play.”
Some dairy workers have had residency applications on hold since before Covid-19 affected New Zealand early last year. Many had been without their families, who were overseas.
The announcement did come too late for some workers who had already left for Australia or Canada which offered certainty about residency rules, he said.
Meat Industry Association chief executive Sirma Karapeeva described the announcement as a significant boost for the meat processing and exporting sector.
Without it, many in the sector, including halal butchers, faced losing their right to stay in New Zealand.
Halal processing was a core part of the country’s meat processing industry with about 43% of total red meat exports halal certified for Muslim consumers in both Muslim and non-Muslim countries.
Without halal butchers, there was real potential that plants would be forced to reduce value-added processing or decide to not save certain products, Ms Karapeeva said.
The decision was "only part of the solution". The industry was seeking a more permanent solution that would aid the entry of migrant halal butchers, such as a special visa category, she said.