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New Zealand relaxes visa rules for stranded seasonal workers

New Zealand is granting flexible visa terms to Pacific seasonal workers - including Samoans - who are stranded in New Zealand so that they can keep working despite their harvest seasons being finished.

New Zealand's Immigration Minister, Iain Lees-Galloway,  announced on Wednesday that 9000 seasonal workers from the Pacific are still in New Zealand and not all expect to be able to get home soon.

He said while the government is helping Pacific Island countries repatriate their citizens, not everyone will be able to get back quickly.

And because the Recognised Seasonal Employers (R.S.E.) programme limits workers to specific work they no longer have, the terms of their visas will expand slightly.

“The RSE scheme is part of our special relationship with the Pacific. As a country, we have a responsibility to support these workers and their employers, whose pastoral care responsibilities include accommodation for the workers,” Mr. Lees-Galloway said.

The workers will now be able to work part time, or 15 hours a week or more, in any kind of work.

They still need an employment agreement ith an R.S.E. employer that will remain responsible for the commitments they signed onto. 

Worker’s extended time in New Zealand will not count towards time they typically have to be out of New Zealand before they are eligible to work another season. 

In light of significant new unemployment in New Zealand, the R.S.E. cap is no longer going to rise from 14,400 as was initially planned, the Minister added.

“We are facing a rise in unemployment among New Zealanders and we expect more New Zealanders to be available for work next season,” he said.

“This is not what we originally announced and planned but we anticipate that more New Zealanders will be available to do this work next year so we could not justify another increase of the cap as we originally planned.”

New groups of seasonal workers will only be permitted to enter New Zealand when the country determines it is safe to relax border restrictions, he said.

So far 1000 R.S.E. workers have managed to get home, and 4000 have made their wishes to get home known. 

Horticulture New Zealand Chief Executive Mike Chapman told the New Zealand Herald that while the announcements were welcome they were very late.

“We really needed these government decisions three months ago,” Mr. Chapman said.

“While local communities have rallied to support R.S.E. workers, government's delays have caused R.S.E. workers and their employers unnecessary anxiety and cost.”

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