Hawke's Bay's booming apple industry will be watching closely to see where an additional 1750 overseas workers will be stationed - as they hope to head off a repeat of this year's 'apple-picking crisis'.
Nine months ago the Ministry of Social Development declared a month-long seasonal labour shortage in the industry at the peak of the apple-picking season.
The Government has now said New Zealand's Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) scheme cap will increase by 1750 to 12,850.
"New Zealand's RSE scheme is a ground-breaking initiative introduced by the previous Labour Government in 2007, helping meet labour shortages in some of New Zealand's most important industries while providing economic support to our Pacific neighbours," Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway said.
"The horticulture and viticulture industries have experienced significant growth in recent years. Industry reports say that since 2015, apple and kiwifruit orchards have increased in value by around 70 per cent each.
"However this growth has been accompanied by prominent labour shortages across industries and regions, notably in the past year. This is expected to continue, with growers forecasting 2600 more workers are needed to help support the industry."
Minister of Social Development Carmel Sepuloni said while it was important the industry was able to access RSE workers in peak season it was equally important they keep their commitment to employing New Zealanders.
"There are some horticulture employers like Turners & Growers (T&G) in Hawke's Bay that have hired thousands of New Zealanders and MSD clients over the years. Through its industry partnership with MSD, T&G is able to offer flexible work hours and pastoral care for clients. The model is a hit with workers and business is booming for the Hawke's Bay grower."
Bostock New Zealand owner John Bostock welcomed the increase as a "positive first step".
"With the rapidly increasing apple crop and decreasing availability of New Zealand workers, the increase will go some way to relieving the labour shortage issues at the peak of the season.
"By increasing the seasonal guest workers it provides the ability to create more permanent full-time jobs for New Zealanders.
"Full time jobs for New Zealanders are very important for resolving some of our social issues in the wider community.
"Bostock New Zealand will be looking closely at how the cap is allocated between competing regions and employers.
"It is vitally important, that a fair, transparent and robust allocation criteria is used. Businesses that demonstrate strong growth need a greater allocation."
T&G pipfruit New Zealand general manager Bruce Beaton said any increase in the RSE cap would have a "positive impact" for the business.
T&G would take in its first of its RSE cohorts next week and expects to employ up to 1000 overseas RSA workers at a time during peak season in Hawke's Bay.
The national pipfruit industry organisation, Hastings-based NZ Apples and Pears, expects an extra 100 new jobs in Hawke's Bay every year to 2025 - not including the need for more seasonal pickers.
"We are delighted with the government's decision to approve an increase in the RSE cap," Apples and Pears chief executive Alan Pollard said.
"Our priority always is to create job opportunities for New Zealanders. Working with local Work and Income teams, we have a number of programmes to achieve this.
"But with provincial New Zealand economies doing very well resulting in fewer unemployed, and with fewer back packers visiting the regions, we need to be able to supplement our New Zealand workers via the RSE scheme."