Plans to reduce the country's reliance on low-skilled migrant workers have been met with backlash by industry heavyweights who say Kiwis aren't interested in doing the work.
Economic Development Minister Stuart Nash announced on Monday that wealthy investors and "highly-skilled workers" would be the targets of New Zealand's Covid-19 immigration "reset".
The reset would also make it harder for employers to take on workers from overseas, other than in areas of genuine skills shortages.
Nash said since the borders closed, ''we've seen a reversal in the horticulture sector – for example – where there's been a lift in wages to bring in local workers''.
Previous immigration settings would not apply in the future, he said, because it had taken its toll on infrastructure, transport, accommodation, and pay.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern later said the Government would not be "turning off the tap" to migrant workers and fended off criticism the policy on immigration was too confusing.
"Our view is a rebalance is required," she said.
However, industry leaders say border controls have already fired up competition between sectors as they fight for employees - and that will increase if the labour pool shrinks further.
Bay of Plenty dairy and forestry leaders say people deserved to be paid their worth but that was easier said than done. The plans have also alarmed the aged care and hospitality sectors, where some businesses were so desperate for staff they poached people from others.
The kiwifruit industry will be shielded from the changes with the Recognised Seasonal Employer scheme set to continue. Figures show numbers the scheme allowed had more than doubled from 5000 in 2007 to 14,400 in 2019/2020. There are currently 7300 RSE workers in the country according to Immigration NZ.
Forest Industry Contractors Association chief executive Prue Younger said there was still a worker shortage.
''We have gone a whole planting season without migrant workers and we are still struggling to get Kiwis who want to work in that space. The lower-skilled workforce generally works bloody hard and we are going to struggle if we can't get them.''
The association was working in conjunction with the Ministry for Social Development, Ministry for Primary Industries, and contractors to take on Kiwis but the uptake had been dismal.
Primary industries were now competing with the aged care sector for overseas workers, she said.
Mahi Rākau Forest Management's health, safety, training and recruitment coordinator Joe Taute said he was an advocate for good wages but said the work was tough.
Unfortunately, some Kiwis did not want to ''get off their arse'', he said.
Hospitality NZ regional manager Alan Sciascia said the industry had a dire shortage of staff and it relied on the migrant workforce.
Border closures and other changes had created major difficulties, he said.
''It doesn't matter if they are foreigners or New Zealanders we just don't have enough people.''
This scenario had amplified poaching, he said.
''They [employers] are now more encouraged to go and try to poach employees from other businesses. That creates a lot of difficulties for those who have lost staff.''
Simon Wallace, of the New Zealand Aged Care Association, told NZME about 55 per cent of nurses in the sector were on some kind of visa.
He said the sector needed about 300 to 500 nurses, despite campaigns to employ New Zealanders and paying well above the minimum wage.
"We have a dependence on overseas workers, particularly from the Philippines and India, and it is really important that we have that pipeline continued," he said.
Federated Farmers Bay of Plenty provisional president Darryl Jensen said there were some migrant workers on dairy farms in the region and several got stuck overseas.
That caused a bit of misery but a lot of Kiwis also worked on farms.
He said salaries and packages had increased and there were other perks.
''Some people have changed careers, some have tried it and don't like it while others love it.
''We want to attract, reward and look after staff.''
Mike Murphy from New Zealand Kiwifruit Growers Inc said its labour attraction strategy in conjunction with support from the MSD and MPI had helped fill seasonal vacancies.
''The kiwifruit industry is grateful for the New Zealanders who have stepped up to fill the gap.''
Most packhouses were paying at least $22.10 per hour while some picking rates had climbed to $24.35 an hour.
On Tuesday, the Prime Minister told the media the Government had no plans to put a cap on net migration.
"There is no suggestion that there will be turning off the tap entirely to temporary workers.
"However, our view is a rebalance is required, given the last 10 years we have seen significant growth."
By the numbers
* In normal times, more than seven million people entered New Zealand each year but in the 12 months from to March this year, just 165,000 people arrived.
* The country had a net migration gain of 6600 people compared with 91,900 people in the previous year.
* In the decade prior to Covid-19, the number of people on temporary work visas in New Zealand doubled – from fewer than 100,000 to more than 200,000.