More restrictions on residency criteria could worsen Queenstown skills shortage

The experience of going out and eating a good meal is in jeopardy with visa restrictions making it tough for smaller ...
Dasha Kuprienko

The experience of going out and eating a good meal is in jeopardy with visa restrictions making it tough for smaller restaurants to keep workers.

Queenstown restaurateurs are predicting immigration changes announced last week will make it more difficult to get a good meal out in the resort.

The rules make it tougher for overseas workers to stay in New Zealand and will worsen the resort's already critical hospitality skills shortage, they say.

Hospitality New Zealand Central Otago branch president Drew Harmer said it was restaurants and cafes that would suffer.

Hospitality New Zealand Central Otago branch president Drew Harmer.
Debbie Jamieson

Hospitality New Zealand Central Otago branch president Drew Harmer.

"There's a massive shortage of skilled labour," he said.

"You look at the number of chefs required and then you give Work and Income a call and there is not a single chef on their books.

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Restaurant Association Southern Lakes branch president Grant Hattaway.
Brooke Gardiner

Restaurant Association Southern Lakes branch president Grant Hattaway.

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"We do have some great experience from overseas. It's those people that we want to stay on in Queenstown. That's where we find it difficult."

Harmer's comments follow the Government's decision to raise the points threshold for residency from 140 to 160 points.

Applicants are required to meet a series of standards linked to a particular job and gain the right amount of points as part of applying for residency.

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"You can have these guys working in your kitchen that have all these skills but they don't tick the box of one individual job description. They don't meet that particular standard. They are just not fitting the bill because of a job description.

"When they're [the Government] looking to expand tourism to the Asian market, they are exactly the applicants we need. Where are we going to get these people from?"

Queenstown had "a bit of a problem" as most of its restaurants and cafes tended to be smaller, with not as many responsibilities for its employees so often they ended up not meeting the Government criteria for residency, Harmer said.

"The definition of a head chef and the points required can differ from what being a head chef actually entails.I feel that a lot of the smaller individual restaurants are being compared to some of the big [restaurants].

"I have had it where a restaurant manager lost points because they didn't have access to the business' bank account. It is getting harder."

Because the process made it harder to retain workers, there had been a high staff turnover this year, Harmer said.

Restaurant Association Southern Lakes branch president Grant Hattaway said new rules would "make it harder" but there was not a lot they could do.

"It's always been challenging here [Queenstown] and not just in our sector. [But] I don't think it's going to turn off the tap for people coming here.

"There's dynamics in business that are changing all the time and certain types of people are coming here. I think it's everyone's challenge. We've all got to make it work for everyone."

It was up to individual businesses to create their own "package" that allowed people to stay on in Queenstown, Hattaway said.

Tourism Industry Aotearoa chief executive Chris Roberts said the Government was making the skills shortage worse particularly when looking for and retaining chefs and cafe or restaurant managers.

Officials reportedly advised that 90 per cent of the chefs approved for residency in New Zealand last year would miss out under the new rules, along with 81 per cent of café and restaurant managers, Roberts said.

"Where are these essential workers now supposed to come from?"

Immigration Minister Michael Woodhouse announced changes to the Government's New Zealand Residence Programme saying: "Migrants make a valuable contribution to New Zealand both culturally and economically.

"While we are confident our immigration settings are working well, the NZRP is reviewed every couple of years to ensure we have the right number and skill mix of people gaining residence."

 - Stuff

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