Hawke's Bay employers say labour shortages such as the seasonal worker shortage this summer could be prevented by setting up a refugee resettlement centre in the region.
The idea was pitched to Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway yesterday as the minister visited growers in the region suffering from a lack of seasonal workers during the height of the apple season.
Lees-Galloway told Hawke's Bay Today the issue had been brought up by a local employer who said it would be great for more refugees to be sent to Hawke's Bay because there was plenty of work for them.
"Our policy is to increase the refugee quota from 1000 to 1500 by the end of this term of Parliament, and if we're receiving 500 more former refugees every year, we are going to need additional resettlement centres."
Following his visit he said he was "certainly interested" in having a conversation with the Hawke's Bay community about whether the area would be a place former refugees could settle.
"Clearly, there is a lot of work available here.
"That's something the local community has to be interested in. A very brief conversation with local mayors indicated that there was interest but there is a lot of work that has to be done around that.
"I'm certainly of the view that if we need more places to resettle refugees, then places where there is an abundance of work are obvious candidates."
The minister was speaking after the conclusion of a two-day tour of the region.
"Inevitably the conversation turned to labour shortages, and the clear theme has been that there is a lot of work that needs to be done here in Hawke's Bay, a lot of it is seasonal work and a lot of employers are struggling to get their hands on the people they need to fill those roles.
"A lot of the discussion has been around what happens if we can fill those roles because a lot of economic activity is created by the seasonal worker."
Lees-Galloway said employers had been keen to stress that overseas RSEs (recognised seasonal employers) were not taking jobs from New Zealanders - they were actually creating "good jobs" for Kiwis to pick up.
A decision on next year's RSE quota would be made in coming weeks but the conversations he had had with employers and industry here and in Marlborough on the issue "would definitely inform the decision".
"One thing that came through really strongly was a desire for more certainty around RSEs. Employers want to know what can they expect next season and the season after. That's they key thing I'll be taking back for us to consider more."
He added that picking work could also, in the future, find itself on a new regional immigration skill shortage list, which would have the added benefit of encouraging migrants to settle away from Auckland.
"The big piece of work we are doing is looking at how we can take a more regionalised approach to immigration.
"At the moment we have a one-size fits all system, where we have nationwide skills shortage lists and whatever changes we make to settings apply across the country."
Ministry officials had been asked to look at how the immigration system could be more regionalised.
That would also make it easier to get some occupations onto a regional shortage list than to get them on the national shortage list.
"Here in Hawke's Bay it could very well be people in viticulture and horticulture, it could be truck drivers or forklift drivers.
"What we would do is work with Chambers of Commerce, local councils, employer groups and unions to develop lists for the region."