Migrant worker changes welcome

Bob Bolanos. Photo: Central Rural Life Files
Bob Bolanos. Photo: Central Rural Life Files
Local business and migrant leaders have welcomed last month's announcement of policy changes for work visas for migrant workers.

Enterprise North Canterbury (ENC) business support manager Miles Dalton and Rangiora-based migrant advocate Bob Bolanos said the changes were a step in the right direction.

Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway announced the introduction of three-year visas and renewals, following a consultation process which began in December last year.

Projections produced by ChristchurchNZ showed that by 2031, Canterbury could be short by 70,000 workers under existing scenarios and long-term migration trends.

North Canterbury's unemployment rate in recent years has been around 2.5%, which was known as ''statistical full employment''.

''ENC was part of the submission process for these changes through our input into a Mayoral Forum response after discussions with many of North Canterbury's farmers,'' Mr Dalton said.

''We are pleased to see several of the suggestions we made are now changes that will be implemented.''

He said the removal of barriers for employers outside the cities was a positive move, while a plan to replace the job test with a remuneration threshold was also welcomed.

''As well as simplifying the process for employers, it will also reduce the chances for worker exploitation.

''We are hopeful that the individual sector agreements that will be negotiated will take into account the needs of industries in low unemployment areas where unskilled labour is needed.''

Mr Bolanos, a migrant from the Philippines who has lived in Canterbury for 20 years, said three-year visas would relieve some of the stress for migrant workers, but he was concerned the remuneration thresholds would be set too high.

''Migrant workers are always anxious about their status with having to reapply every year, so the three-year renewals will make a difference.

''My concern is we are losing good workers to other countries. Farmers don't want to lose good workers because the farm basically runs by itself.''

He said remuneration thresholds were likely to mean migrant workers needed to attain an assistant manager position or equivalent before applying for residency.

''Not everyone wants to change jobs to move up to being an assistant manager. I've known people who have been herd managers for 10 years and are perfectly happy with their position, but they can't become a permanent resident.''

Without residency, the children of migrants were denied the opportunity of tertiary education unless they left New Zealand, ''and education is very important to Filipino people'', he said.

''We are not getting the best out of people because we are denying them the opportunity to stay here. You ask any farmer and they will say they want to keep these people because they work hard and are good workers.''

-By David Hill

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