Tauranga is becoming a magnet for migrant workers as immigration numbers soar.

Industry leaders say migrants play an important role in the local economy - doing seasonal jobs that some locals are unwilling to do and helping to address skill shortages.

However, New Zealand First list MP Clayton Mitchell says Kiwis should be given priority for jobs and houses.

"We need to look after our own," he told the Bay of Plenty Times Weekend.


Mr Mitchell said New Zealand First was not against immigration, but "we are all about doing everything to keep our Kiwis working, housed and looked after".

He was particularly concerned about the number of foreign workers working in the kiwifruit industry. He had met orchardists and said getting more Kiwis into the industry was an issue the Government needed to take seriously.

Figures from Internal Affairs show that from 2012 to 2014 Tauranga welcomed 1781 new citizens with 230 being inducted up until June this year.

A Tauranga City Council spokesman said citizenship ceremonies were held monthly with a cap of 60 candidates and used to be held about every two months but were increased a couple of years ago.

Information from the New Zealand Census revealed the number of foreign-born residents for Tauranga and the Western Bay of Plenty had more than doubled - from about 14,000 in 1996, to nearly 29,000 in 2013.

That comes amid the Bay's booming economy as Trade Me job listings jumped 41 per cent in the year to March.

The city's dole queue has also shortened, Work and Income New Zealand figures showing for the March 2015 quarter there were 4005 job seekers compared to 4239 over the corresponding period in 2014. New Zealand Kiwifruit Growers Inc president Neil Trebilco said he agreed with Mr Mitchell "in the sense we do need a lot more Kiwis in our industry as it is growing very rapidly and they are our preference".

This year was the largest kiwifruit crop on record, with about 18,000 people including seasonal workers employed and "it is shaping up to be even bigger again next year", he said.


However, many Kiwis were not interested in seasonal work and skilled graduate numbers were only starting to rebuild after falling off from 2000 to 2012, he said.

So people from overseas were brought in to fill the gaps although it was working with the Ministry of Social Development to try and get long-term unemployed trained and work ready.

"We are having some successes but it is not easy."

Chamber of Commerce interim chief executive Toni Palmer said skilled and unskilled migrants were important to Tauranga.

The horticulture industry relied on unskilled workers to harvest crops and many migrants filled those roles, she said.

"As we address the skill shortages, migrants who are already trained provide a quick fix to fill that gap. Cultural diversity is part of every growing city and forms part of the evolution of Tauranga."


Priority One projects manager Annie Hill said as the Tauranga economy grew "migrants are very important to the economy to ensure our businesses get the skilled employees they need to operate at maximum productivity levels where these skills are not available locally".

Migrants increased cultural diversity and brought in new ideas and links to international markets, she said.

Anecdotally it understood there were skills shortages in construction, IT, engineering and health sectors locally, she said.

It had been involved with SmartGrowth on the development of the Bay of Plenty Tertiary Intentions Strategy which was completed last year to provide input to plan to ensure future tertiary and research provision meets local needs, she said.

The Ministry for Business Innovation and Employment said New Zealand citizens and residents were always given first priority before jobs were offered to people from overseas on labour-market tested work visas.

The immigration policy also allowed overseas workers to fill jobs when no New Zealanders were available and for particular skill shortages while foreigners could apply for a temporary work visa if they had a job offer in a skilled occupation where the same rules applied, she said.


The latest data from Statistics New Zealand covering the net gain of migrants for the year to May 2015 showed 57,800 immigrants entered the country.

Worker fell in love with Bay

When Diana Anderson did her Bachelor in Biotechnology degree in Germany she was encouraged to spend time overseas - a venture that led to more study and a career in the kiwifruit industry.

The Trevelyan's Pack and Cool harvest and inventory manager, who also has a Masters in Agibusiness from Massey University, said she was grateful to her mother who supported her trip to New Zealand "although she never expected me to stay for good."

"But she's okay with it now because I am happier here. She has come for a visit and really likes it."

Diana Anderson is a German-born New Zealand citizen who has lived in New Zealand for more than 10 years.

Ms Anderson bought a house in Tauranga two years ago and said she enjoyed her job because "I am involved in several areas of the business and can make a difference".


New Zealand was more laid back and friendly.

"There is less people, more space and more nature - that's what I like the most."

Trevelyan's managing director James Trevelyan said 22 of its 120 fulltime staff were foreign born.

At the height of the season 500 workers from 42 countries came on the Recognised Seasonal Employer scheme and on working holiday visas.

"We would not have a business if it was not for this workforce."

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