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NZ won’t adopt Australia’s Pacific labor pathway to residency plan, says Ardern

A Pasifika seasonal worker is asking why the New Zealand Government won’t make it easier for him to get permanent residence despite working here for four years under the Recognized Seasonal Employer scheme.

His call comes after Prime Minister Jacinda Arden said she is not looking to expand the scope of New Zealand’s Recognized Seasonal Employer (RSE) scheme any time soon amid calls to adopt Australia’s labor pathway plan for Pacific workers.

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said the plan for permanent migration residency for people from the Pacific Islands was to ensure that the paths to permanent migration were available where appropriate.

He said the idea of ​​people migrating temporarily was not in the interests of the workers or Australia.

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Seasonal workers who spoke to stuff Anonymously for fear of losing their jobs, say many had not seen their families for a few years, but needed money to send home, especially now with the Covid-19 economic fallout.

They hoped New Zealand would take Australia’s approach, so they could help strengthen New Zealand’s economy and be able to have family here as well.

But Ardern said New Zealand has no plans to develop a permanent residence scheme in Aotearoa, similar to Australia’s new 3000 visas’ scheme recently announced by Albanese.

The RSE scheme is a standalone employer-assisted visa category that enables those in the horticulture and wine growing sector to recruit an annually capped number of seasonal workers.

In February, the Government increased the cap on Pacific workers from 14,000 to 16,000, so employers could access more labor to help with planting, maintenance, harvesting, packing and winter pruning.

Tongan RSE workers at an orchard in Timaru.

Bejon Haswell/Stuff

Tongan RSE workers at an orchard in Timaru.

Both Ardern and Albanese had attended the recent Pacific Islands Forum leaders’ summit in Fiji where the discussions also focused on climate change, Covid-19, the cost of living crises and China’s growing influence in the region.

Pacific workers’ advocates want Ardern to grant permanent residency to Pasifika workers, but the prime minister said any view to expand New Zealand’s RSE program would have to be done cautiously.

Pacific workers advocate Tevita Lata said there are about 1000 Tongans working in New Zealand, and they are concerned that Ardern is not looking into “any sort of migration policy for Pacific labourers”.

“The only way current RSE workers can get residency in NZ is through the Pacific Access Category where they have to live and work here for many years and that’s still no guarantee they will get PR.

“But if there’s a migrant pathway for RSE workers from Immigration New Zealand then our people can have hope that their efforts to help NZ’s economy are worthwhile. They can feel appreciated.

“It’s a win-win situation for both our people and NZ: these workers’ children can get better education opportunities and other benefits which they wouldn’t have been able to get back home.”

Lata said the issue needed to be addressed by the Pacific RSE member states and the New Zealand Government.

Ardern said the Pacific was experiencing a rapid reopening and scaling up of tourism – a key sector for the region.

“One of the concerns I’ve heard from the region is unless we ensure we get the settings of our RSE program right, we run the risk of taking skills and labor out of the region at a critical time,” Ardern said in Suva.

Ardern said the region had just recently reopened borders after Covid-19, and each nation would have to take stock of its skills needs first.

“So we haven’t looked at it at this stage because we’re all in just that reopening phase, and we’re recalibrating to see what everyone’s employment needs are,” she said. “We haven’t looked at blanket schemes, but I think we will, just as we reopen, see whether there are ways that we can improve the program that we already have.”

Prime Ministers Anthony Albanese and Jacinda Ardern take a selfie in Sydney.

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Prime Ministers Anthony Albanese and Jacinda Ardern take a selfie in Sydney.

Ardern said the fact there was no blanket visa program should not deter skilled Pasifika from applying to live or work in New Zealand.

“I would encourage anyone who, for instance, has a set of skills that they don’t believe are being fully utilized – have a look at those green pathways in New Zealand because we do have a green list that’s not country-specific, it’s skills-specific.”

Albanese said his government had announced during its election campaign plans for a specific Pacific peoples migration program on a permanent basis.

“I want people in Australia to have that sense of ownership and belonging. I want them to be citizens, I want them to be able to participate in all forms of Australian life.”

He said, where possible, they should “ensure that there are paths to permanent migration available where appropriate and that’s why we have that specific policy for Pacific Islanders”.

Ardern said while the RSE scheme was designed to be beneficial to the Pacific and Aotearoa, there were countries such as Fiji that were rapidly scaling up their tourism amid the pandemic. It was important New Zealand did not “exacerbate any skills’ shortage that might exist, the prime minister said.

“So at the moment, we are not looking to change numbers. We just want to make sure that we get that right, and that we do no harm through a program that’s designed to do good.”

When asked if New Zealand would consider opening up the program to sectors beyond horticulture, Ardern said there were other avenues for skilled Fijians who were unable to land jobs.

“Where of course if there are qualified individuals in Fiji who are seeking work where we are seeking those skills, then it is easier to enter New Zealand now than it has been before.”

Immigration New Zealand has been approached for comment.

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