DairyNZ, the Road Transport Forum and Federated Farmers all support various aspects of the proposed changes to the employer-assisted temporary work visa settings.

The proposed changes, which were released by Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway last month, were designed to ensure that work visas issued reflect genuine regional skill shortages, there is more support for businesses to employ more New Zealanders, and access to migrant labour is available where there is a genuine need.

Consultation on the changes will close on March 18, and outcomes will be announced mid-year.

Road Transport Forum chief executive Nick Leggett said the move to introduce sector agreements had positive potential for the industry.

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''Ever since truck drivers were taken off the Immediate Skills Shortage list a number of years ago, transport operators have struggled to keep up with New Zealand's ever-growing freight demand,'' Mr Leggett said.

''It is estimated that the New Zealand road transport industry is currently around 4000 drivers short of where we should be based on today's freight task.

''The road transport sector agreement ... has the potential to alleviate some of the most acute shortages for operators in certain parts of the country.''

Federated Farmers employment spokesman Chris Lewis said streamlining procedures and new regional skills shortage lists were steps in the right direction.

''The problems in places such as Balclutha, Methven and Ashburton are not the same as in Auckland, and it's important that we have a framework that doesn't punish farming businesses for ... pressures faced [due to] population growth in our major cities,'' Mr Lewis said.

''In many cases, it's the families of migrant workers that provide the critical mass to keep provincial community resources like schools and ... clubs alive.''

He said the regional skill shortage lists could be a vital tool but, just like the existing skills in demand lists, as proposed they will only include occupations of high and medium skill level.

''This is a big problem for agriculture because the Government currently categorises most farm workers as low-skilled.

''For the regional skills shortage lists to be of any value, this needs to change.''
Rural Women New Zealand (RWNZ) national president Fiona Gower said the acute shortage of farm workers had resulted in a reliance on migrant workers.

''However, any proposals must address the impact on migrant families including access to affordable health, accommodation, education and support services,'' she said.

''The introduction of regional skills shortage lists, along with new incentives and support for employers, will go some way to alleviating the chronic lack of rural workers throughout New Zealand.

''It is vital that any changes to the employer-assisted work visa programme include reinstatement of the right for temporary migrant workers to bring their partners and dependent children with them for the duration of their visa period and provide for their safety and wellbeing once
they arrive.''

DairyNZ welcomed the changes and the proposed introduction of Regional Skills Shortage Lists, as labour shortages are a serious problem for the dairy sector.

DairyNZ chief executive Dr Mackle said many of the industry's migrant farm staff had to reapply for their visas each year and could not bring their families to New Zealand or stay longer than three years.

''This significantly impacts our workforce and our rural communities.

''We hope this consultation will result in many of our valuable dairy employees being classed as mid-skilled rather than the current incorrect classification of low-skilled.

''Knowing that they will be able to retain their good staff will mean our farmers can be confident in investing in training and development.''

Proposals

These proposals impact the following 6 temporary work visas:

* Essential Skills including the Essential Skills in Demand Lists (ESID)
* Approval-in-Principle
* Talent (Accredited Employer)
* Work to Residence — Long-term Skill Shortage List occupation
* Silver Fern (Practical Experience)
* Silver Fern (Job Search).

The new framework will simplify the immigration system by reducing the number of pathways for employer-assisted temporary work visas into one enhanced framework that includes employer, job and migrant checks.

— There are also too few checks and balances on employers hiring migrants, resulting in some employers with poor track records still being able to access migrant labour.
— The Essential Skills in Demand Lists will be replaced with Regional Skills Shortage Lists and it will likely introduce sector agreements for those areas that rely heavily on migrant labour.
— Other changes include improving the alignment of the immigration, welfare and education systems.
— While the new framework would initially require more administration for most employers, the changes as a whole will make the overall process faster for employers who meet the required standards, and will support better compliance and assurance processes.

Southern Rural Life