Labour leader Andrew Little has cited Chinese and Indian chefs as an example of semi-skilled migration which should be restricted.
However, immigration figures show visas granted to Chinese chefs are capped at 200 places -- under a free trade agreement signed by Labour - and it has taken years to fill these spots. In addition, one restaurant owner says NZ chefs often do not have the skills required.
Mr Little told reporters at Parliament yesterday that large inflows of semi-skilled migrants were putting pressure on jobs, especially in Auckland. The Government needed to "turn the tap down a bit" until conditions improved, he said.
Mr Little highlighted a provision in the free trade agreement with China that allowed Chinese chefs to work in this country.
"But the reality is we have big ethnic populations, certainly Indians, certainly Chinese, and I would have thought we could outsource chefs locally rather than have to rely on immigration to get them."
However, under the China FTA the number of Chinese chefs is capped at 200 and the Immigration NZ website shows it took from 2008 until September 2011 to fill those places.
Jatinderjit Singh Grewal, who runs an Indian restaurant in Mt Maunganui, said he preferred to employ local chefs but he was struggling to find suitable candidates.
Prime Minister John Key said yesterday he "doesn't know where [Mr Little] is coming up with this stuff".
"I mean, honestly, we are a country based on migration. We welcome people, they do a good job, they work hard, we are a multi-cultural society."
After the immigration comments led last night's news, Mr Little tweeted that the story was "truly weird", and that the subject was raised by journalists and not himself.
In a later post on the Labour website, he repeated the assertion that media reporting of his comments was "baffling". In the post, he said he was asked about apparent concerns locals had with immigrant chefs by the Hutt News when he visited Lower Hutt last week.
"I said there was an issue with semi-skilled people being recruited under skills shortages categories but I doubt whether this related to chefs," Mr Little wrote.
"I was asked about Labour's policy on immigration generally. I said our approach was that as the economy slows there is a case to 'turn the tap down.'"
Mr Little said he repeated that statement when asked about the issue by political reporters yesterday.
- additional reporting Claire Trevett