Regional Seasonal Employment (RSE) workers from the Samoan village of Poutasi say they are desperate to come back to Hawke's Bay to fill a potentially massive labour gap.
The horticultural sector in Hawke's Bay fears it will only be able to harvest 60 per cent of its spring and summer crop without the migrant workers they normally employ, which make up about a third of their seasonal workforce.
Poutasi paramount chief Tuatagaloa Joe Annandale normally sends around 130 workers from his village to New Zealand to start work every November, but as things stand they can't come this season because of Covid-19 border restrictions.
"There is a concern, but at the same time there is hope that they will be able to come back to New Zealand," Tuatagaloa said.
He said the workers and their families face a massive financial struggle if the "amazing" benefits of the programme don't eventuate this year:
"Unemployment being so high here, it's a godsend really."
Tuatagaloa said some of his people have worked in orchards three or four or more seasons in a row now.
"Families tend to start leaning on them a little bit more, and the communities that they live in," he said.
"The more you make the more you spend, and the more dependent those around you are on you."
If Poutasi's seasonal workforce can't go to New Zealand, Tuatagaloa said they will likely be left to work their plantations at home for very little money.
"We'd prefer for them to be working in New Zealand when it's time to work because they do so well, it helps their families so much, so, so much," he said.
Tuatagaloa said that life might get harder for those families in the coming months, but it is not easy for anyone in Samoa at the moment after the collapse of the tourism industry.
He knows the situation better than most as the director of Sinalei Reef Resort, which has cut back staff to just a couple of security guards and maintenance workers.
"And we've been doing that for the past six months, seven months, it's sad," Tuatagaloa said.
"It's bad, but we'll just have to wait and see what happens."
The National Party has promised to bring RSE workers into the country if elected, and the current Labour government has said it is working on solutions for the coming summer, but public health remains paramount.
Apple grower Bostock New Zealand's seasonal labour manager Ali Lawn said the RSE programme is "the best form of aid that [New Zealand] can give" and New Zealand Apples & Pears CEO Alan Pollard has said bringing back a Pacific Island workforce is crucial to getting the crop harvested.
"About 80 per cent of them work in the orchards, which is very physically demanding work, tends to be done by migrant labour," he said.
"Unlike rugby players from Australia or America's Cup crews from America, the workers would be coming from Covid-free countries."