As part of the Government’s COVID-19 response, Immigration New Zealand (INZ) has established a process for RSE visa holders to move to other RSE employers who have an Agreement to Recruit (ATR) if their existing employment is coming to an end. However, as the demand for seasonal workers in the horticulture and viticulture industries reduces over the winter months, there is not enough work available to support all the RSE visa holders still in New Zealand while they await repatriation flights. This has been identified as a problem that is leading to an increase of behavioural incidents and concerns around the welfare of workers.
It is fair to say at this time, many RSE workers are desperate to return home.
In response, the Minister of Immigration has decided to grant a Special Direction, issuing new, more flexible limited visas to RSE workers without work.
This is a short-term, time-limited measure to allow flexibility for RSE visa holders who are without work while RSE workers await flights to return home.
Changes enabling more flexible visas:
• Reducing the minimum hours employers are required to offer workers from 30hrs to 15hrs (in recognition that some RSE employers have some work available but under current policy couldn’t offer further work unless they could meet the 30hr requirement).
• RSE workers will be able to undertake more roles in horticulture and viticulture, beyond picking, pruning and packing.
• Subject to worker agreement, RSE workers will now have the ability to work in other sectors outside horticulture and viticulture. RSE employers will be able to contract these workers into other sectors but to safeguard workers, RSE employers must maintain the employment arrangement and pastoral care responsibilities. The pastoral care must continue to meet the standards required under the RSE scheme (as confirmed by the Labour Inspectorate).
In order to be granted visas (at no cost to the worker or employer), the RSE employer will need to get any employment approved by the Ministry of Social Development (MSD) to ensure any work does not displace New Zealanders, undertake to continue honour RSE commitments to workers, and work collaboratively with all parties to repatriate workers as early as possible.
Changes to ensure workers and employers are not disadvantaged by COVID-19 disruptions:
• A time-limited policy change to remove the stand down period. This change specifies that the period a RSE worker is stranded in New Zealand due to COVID-19 disruption will not be taken into account when calculating the earliest date they can be granted a visa for the upcoming season. Whether the worker will be able to enter New Zealand will depend on border restrictions at the time.
All of these changes are time-bound and the focus remains to repatriate workers as soon as possible.
The Pacific Migration team, including the RSE Relationship Managers- Tony and Oiko, will be supporting RSE employers to understand these changes and utilise the opportunities this flexibility provides.
RSE cap decision and return of workers to New Zealand
COVID-19 has added significant uncertainty to New Zealand industry’s workforce planning for 20/21, as well as uncertainty for Pacific workers and your labour sending units. The impact of border restrictions and New Zealand’s changing labour market has exacerbated the challenge of predicting New Zealand’s labour needs for the coming season.
To provide as much certainty as possible, the Minister has announced today that the RSE cap (maximum number of RSE workers allowed to come to New Zealand in a 12 month period) will be held at the same level, 14,400 workers, for the next season. This decision does not change the fact that the New Zealand border currently remains closed to all migrants that are not New Zealand citizens, residents or those who meet the limited exception requirements. Currently, RSE workers Arrival of any new RSE workers for the 2020/21 season will not occur unless there are changes to the current border restrictions.
You can find more information on the Immigration New Zealand website: https://www.immigration.govt.nz/about-us/covid-19/recognised-seasonal-employers-rse-covid-19-information