A pile of paperwork to hire migrant dairy workers
OPINION: I employ migrants on my farm and I feel fortunate to do so and would recommend it.
But if you don't already know, it's not easy to employ foreigners on New Zealand farms.The dairy industry in particular has been attractive to overseas employees, but their prospects of being employed here are becoming increasingly difficult.
From my experience the immigration or work visa process is a tedious, exhaustive business with lots of loops to get through just to get someone on your farm.
The migrant too is faced with a pile of paperwork and has to meet certain criteria. For those farmers reading this it's important to follow the correct process and that means meeting all the laborious bureaucracy requirements. If you don't follow the process correctly, you can expect any applications to be declined –whether or not your overseas employee meets their end of the criteria.
Essentially you must advertise the position, and make sure you keep a record of this, as you may need to produce it as evidence further down the application trail. You must also contact your local Work and Income office. Engage closely with them to discuss your job opportunity and the skill set and personal qualities you're looking for – hopefully they will send you someone good.
Always prioritise the applications and be prepared to demonstrate that you have tried to recruit a New Zealander first. Of course most of us would be prepared to hire a local and why not? We want to see more Kiwis choosing agriculture as a career. Depending on where you are in the country will dictate the applicants that are available. The reality is in rural areas there are fewer jobs and more competition.
Those good employees are rarely looking for a job and are quickly snapped up anyway. Otherwise, you have to consider someone who has perhaps got a shady past or could walk away down the track for whatever reasons. Sometimes the applicant will have all the right intentions, but simply doesn't fit the job description. In this situation, and it does occur often, you might be looking at the overseas option and bringing someone into New Zealand.
This is where life can get awkward as far as getting help on your farm goes. If you choose to look for a migrant, you must do the correct reference checking for all documentation they provide and decide if they meet your and the Government's requirements. If you don't do this properly and the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment finds out, your new employee could get sent home or their visa revoked or not renewed. This scenario is real and has happened recently where people got prosecuted, so not knowing is not an excuse.
Still, you can call on an immigration consultant or human resource specialist to assist you with hiring a migrant farm worker. They know the pitfalls and can save you time and money or the massive inconvenience of losing a worker unexpectedly. Federated Farmers has fielded many phone calls and emails on this issue. We are here to help but if you lie or have actually broken the law there's little we can do.
You have to ask yourself, do we want dishonest people in our country who are comfortable breaking the law? If you do decide that a migrant meets all the criteria and is the preferred applicant, you should formally issue them a job offer.
In the contract, make sure a job description is clear and correctly filled out and this is where you must pay attention to detail. I've had Immigration New Zealand previously turn me down, with paperwork a professional filled out.
One technicality can hold the application up for months which is frustrating, especially when you are anticipating that the application would take weeks not months and you and your staff are left to carry the burden.
There's rarely time on-farm to ponder your misfortune when animals need to be looked after and business must carry on. Remember the wages you offer and conditions must be equal or better than available to a New Zealander. The time, paperwork and bureaucracy undertaken during the process can't be underestimated.
Once the permit is approved, travel and all the other logistics add to the wait. As tempting as it may be with things piling up, employing someone without the legal right to work in New Zealand will not be looked upon favourably.
If your migrant is already in the country, they don't start work until their visa is approved. Whether you choose an immigration or human resource consultant, their fees can be expensive so be prepared to set aside some money. I've yet to speak with a farmer who got a discount.
Having diversity in your business is fine and generally migrants will be great employees for you and enhance your family business. But there are pitfalls and risks undertaken around hiring migrants.
I can say it's been particularly satisfying and rewarding, but be ready to do your due diligence and have patience.
This week Waikato Federated Farmers is holding a meeting to discuss The Waikato Farm Capability Society (WFCS) on Thursday from 7.30pm at Waikato Federated Farmers Boardroom. Come along and invest in your farm and the primary sector's future.
The society is a group training and employment scheme that is focused on career development and support for farm workers.
- Chris Lewis is Federated Farmers Waikato president.