A top Auckland Filipino restaurant is struggling to convince Immigration New Zealand that cooking ox penis soup requires specialist skills.
Also known as Soup Number Five, it is a traditional Filipino dish. Other traditional dishes include adobo, crispy pata, afritada, puchero, sinigang and pinakbet.
INZ is refusing to grant visas for Boracay Garden Restaurant to employ a specialist chef and restaurant manager from the Philippines because it said New Zealanders could be trained for the jobs.
The agency also said that the restaurant's advertisements requiring applicants to be fluent in both English and Tagalog were aimed at creating "restrictions for New Zealand citizens and residents".
Restaurant co-owner Stuart Bennett said it was "impossible" to teach a local or anyone without intimate knowledge of Filipino dishes to cook the cuisine.
"It is way too complex, and not something you can put together by following the steps on a recipe," he said.
The complexities included the timely cooking process of the penis meat and the many steps involved in making up the soup that it is served in.
Filipino cuisine evolved over centuries from Austronesian origins to also include Spanish, Indian, Malay-Indonesian, Japanese, Chinese and American influences.
"We have looked at Filipino residents here; there is nobody skilled to the level we require to offer the standard and complexity of cuisine," Bennett said.
"They are telling us that we can somehow train New Zealand citizens to become experts in what is a very complex cuisine."
The restaurant last week catered meals for Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte and his delegates during their Auckland visit. But he did not try out the restaurant's famous soup.
Bennett said the local Filipino chef applicants were trained in international and other cuisines, but not their own.
He argued that because nine of 10 customers are Filipinos, being able to speak Tagalog as well as English was essential.
"The delay and refusing in granting visas is severely affecting our business," Bennett said.
Massey University sociologist Paul Spoonley, an immigration expert, said there had been growing sensitivities over recent migration numbers and some "skill" requirements were being politicised.
"Chefs are a classic case...the lack of flexibility around what should be the subject of an immigration application and which could be filled locally is being lost because of external and political pressure," Professor Spoonley said.
"Specialist chefs who might need to be multilingual should be considered as a case for international recruitment, especially given how important our food sector is for the economy.
"English language fluency should be an expectation but the value of being multilingual also needs to be recognised."
Spoonley said the tightening of conditions for visa approval was part of the Government's attempt to dial back migrant numbers.
"It will put pressure on some businesses including restaurants," he said.
"But it would be foolish to put the good performers under pressure."
INZ area manager Darren Calder said every visa application was rigorously assessed against immigration instructions.
"New Zealand citizens and residents are always given first priority when vacancies are advertised before the jobs are offered to people from overseas who are on labour-market tested work visas," he said.
Calder said there was no appreciable difference in the decline rates for chef visas between this year and last year.
Between May and October this year, 2113 visas were issued to foreign nationals coming to New Zealand to work as chefs, slightly down from 2177 last year.
However the number of applications declined increased over the same period from 254 to 358.
The application for a chef at Boracay was declined because the agency was unable to establish that the employer had made genuine attempts to recruit and train suitable Kiwis, he said.
"INZ may consider that an employer has not made genuine attempts to recruit suitable New Zealand citizens or residents if the employer has advertised the work in such a way that they are unlikely to apply, for example making foreign language skills a requirement when it is not necessary for the performance of the work," Calder added.