With immigration officials unable to process potential overseas workers any faster, Hawke's Bay residents are being asked to help alleviate the region's "extreme" apple-picking crisis.

That crisis, which has been ongoing since April, was made worse last week when the Ministry of Social Development declared a seasonal labour shortage of apple-pickers across the Tasman region - meaning extra competition for Hawke's Bay growers wanting to recruit the same people.

In an attempt to get more Hawke's Bay locals picking apples, Ngati Kahungunu chairman Ngahiwi Tomoana and his wife Mere are spending three days picking apples at one of Bostock New Zealand's Hastings orchards.

They were also calling on members of their iwi to join them.


"I just can't sleep at night knowing that our delicious Hawke's Bay apples could go to waste," Mr Tomoana said.

"The apple industry drives our economy and creates thousands of jobs for our iwi. So we need to support our local growers, so the apples don't rot on the trees.

"We can't drive past the 'apple pickers wanted' signs and detach ourselves from the main economy of our region.

"For every four RSE workers, there is a permanent job for our local people and it's not just picking apples. It's a staircase career where there are so many diverse jobs and opportunities now.

"We lead the world in apple production and as a result, there are such a wide variety of job opportunities, which our iwi need to jump on."

The Ministry of Social Development declared a labour shortage on March 12. It was originally due to end on April 6 but has since been extended until April 29.

Despite the declared shortage, which entitles overseas visitors to change the terms of their visitor visas to be able to work as apple-pickers, Bostock New Zealand labour development and resource manager Vikki Garrett said it had still been a real struggle to find pickers for the Royal Gala harvest.

"Since the declaration was announced the number of locals and backpackers coming through has been very minimal.

"The apple crop is 60 per cent picked. The Fuji variety started this week and there is concern that the fruit will not be picked at the optimum time due to the extreme labour shortage.

"The labour crisis for us is the worst it's ever been and the reliability of locals has been a major struggle this year. There were also hardly any backpackers. With new planting and more apples we are also very concerned about next season."

Bostock New Zealand was hopeful it could get the fruit off the trees at the optimum time and was encouraging locals to come out and pick the fruit.

"Our priority is always putting locals first for local jobs. The labour shortage is a serious issue for our industry. We need to work with local iwi, education providers and Government to ensure we have consistent and reliable pickers for the season."

Immigration New Zealand area manager Stephanie Greathead said INZ had established a priority process from March 16 for people wishing to vary their visa conditions.

So far, 34 applications had been received.

"In addition, INZ has received a request from one employer to transfer 30 workers, via an Agreement to Recruitment, who are currently working for another employer in Marlborough. So far, five have been decided - four approved and one declined.

"It should be noted that as with every application INZ receives, each application received will be assessed on its own individual merit and against current immigration instructions."