Employers of migrant beekeepers could be left scrambling to find workers this spring if, as expected, New Zealand's border remains closed to foreign nationals.

Many beekeeping operations rely on skilled foreigners to tend to their hives through the spring, summer and autumn months, employed on temporary work visas.

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New Zealand's migrant beekeepers wintering down away from home

Some of these beekeepers have been allowed to remain in New Zealand over winter, with an eye to them being in place when the beekeeping season begins again in August and September (as detailed in the June issue of Apiarist's Advocate).

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However, many of the workers who left New Zealand to return to their homeland at the completion of the 2019-20 season, and were expecting to return later in the year, could be unable to enter the country.

Apiculture New Zealand (ApiNZ) had been in contact with Immigration New Zealand over the issue, but the chances of any workers being allowed entry is slim at this stage, ApiNZ chief executive Karin Kos said.

"The reality is, there are a lot of restrictions and the government has pretty much said that the bar is set really high for exceptions to the border restrictions. So, I think it is going to be very difficult for employers to bring migrant workers into the country. The expectation is that it probably won't happen this year" Kos said.

ApiNZ has been contacted by several employers who are concerned at the potential void left by the absence of foreign workers.

"Some employers do have staff on the ground and are trying to recruit other New Zealanders, but it is not easy. So I think there will be pressures on staffing entering the new season" Kos said.

Around 200 migrant workers came to New Zealand to work in apiculture last year, but the total number of beekeepers who remained in the country at the end of the season cannot be confirmed, Kos said.

While the likelihood of a reduction in border restrictions being eased was reduced by the discovery of new cases of Covid-19 entering the country in June, Kos said ApiNZ is doing what it can to find solutions.

"We are still working on it. The beekeeping companies I am talking to are saying they are constantly talking with immigration. We are talking to them as well, asking for any updates, or if there are changes from government, then we want to know. They understand the issue".

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Foreign workers have formed much of the workforce at some of New Zealand's biggest beekeeping companies in recent seasons, with Filipino beekeepers the most numerous of the various nationalities. However, Kos said she expected the border restrictions to have an effect across a wide range of apiculture businesses and with workers from many nations.

"It is not just bigger companies, there are some smaller companies who employ migrants, and not just Filipinos, there are some people come in from Eastern Europe, among others".

"I think everyone would prefer to employ New Zealanders, but the reality is, this industry has grown so much that employers have had to keep up with the growth".

Apiculture, as an industry, is not alone in its reliance on foreign workers and those who would usually call on migrant beekeepers should be making alternate plans for staffing, as best they can, said Kos.

"You have to work with what you have got, expecting that it is going to be difficult for migrant workers to enter the country. It is not just us as beekeepers, but all primary industries who are facing the issue. In fact, we are probably not as badly-affected as some of the other industries".

- This article was first published in Apiarist's Advocate beekeeping eMagazine, subscribe for free at www.apiaristsadvocate.com.

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