1400 immigrant workers employed on Southland's 900 dairy farms
More than 1400 immigrant workers are employed on Southland's 900 dairy farms, Venture Southland says.
The figure has underlined how important the immigrants are to the dairy industry in Southland, with the spotlight going on new immigration laws which will potentially allow about half of the 1400 dairy farm workers and their families to stay working in the region and gain New Zealand residency.
However, the other half will be secure in their jobs for only three years, but will then have to meet strict criteria or leave the country.
This has raised concerns there will be a skills shortage on the region's dairy farms down the track.
Last month, the Government announced a new policy to provide a one-off pathway to residency for immigrant workers and their families who have been living in the South island for more than five years.
Eligible immigrants will be granted a temporary visa, which would make them eligible for residency after two years if they stayed in the same industry and region.
They would then be granted a New Zealand residency visa, with conditions requiring them to stay in the same South Island region for a further two years.
The new policy is scheduled to come into effect on May 22, with applications to be accepted for 12 months from then.
Venture Southland business services manager Alistair Adam said an estimated 700 of Southland's 1400 immigrant dairy farm workers had worked in the industry in Southland for at least five years, so would be eligible to apply for permanent residency for themselves and their families.
If successful, they would be allowed to remain working in Southland with their families.
This would provide stability for the migrants and the Southland dairy sector, he said.
"Immigration New Zealand has recognised they have made a contribution to Southland and they are giving them a pathway to stay here."
There has been concern from some immigrant workers that the government would cap the number of people eligible for permanent residency in the South Island to 1600.
But that number was an estimate and no cap had been put in place, Adam said.
Southland's remaining 700 immigrant dairy farm workers who had been in the industry for less than five years would still be able to stay in the region with their families for up to three years before having to leave the country if they did not meet pay and skills criteria.
However, Adam said there would not be a mass reduction of 700 dairy workers in the region at once, because many of those 700 workers would have left the country when their visas ran out after a year anyway and had never planned on settling in the region.
The spouses and children of the immigrant diary farm workers were also also valued members of the community, working in sectors like elder health care and attending Southland schools, he said.
Venture understood the 1400 immigrant dairy workers employed on Southland's 900 dairy farms had 998 spouses and 1548 children.
Of the 998 spouses, about 600 were working in other industries in Southland, Adam said.
Southland Federated Farmers dairy chairman Graeme McKenzie said the dairy industry in Southland had been reliant on using immigrant workers to enable the industry to continue being productive for at least 10 years.
The fast track to residency programme was good news for the dairy industry because there were cases where immigrant dairy farm workers had been employed in the industry for more than five years and been trained up, but were still unable to get residency.
However, there was concern that if the immigrants who had been in the country less than five years were forced to leave after three years, there would be a massive skills base lost to the industry and others would have to be re-trained to fill in the gaps.
The Government was being lobbied on the issue.
Filipino national Rodel Silvestre, who works on a dairy farm near Gore, said there was some confusion among some of the Filipinos working on dairy farms, because the "laws changed most years".
- The Southland Times