In welcome – growers in Hawke’s Bay would say, overdue – news, the Government has announced that seasonal (RSE) workers from Samoa, Tonga and Vanuatu will be able to enter New Zealand starting in September without the standard two-week managed isolation.

Those countries have not had community Covid outbreaks. There will be protective measures including pre-departure and on-arrival Covid testing.

Said PM Ardern: “We know our agricultural sector is experiencing challenges … We’ve heard the call from primary sectors and others to bring in additional workers in a safe way and we think that is now possible.”

Covid-related border restrictions had cut in half the workforce available for harvesting and other labour during the last season.

Local grower Paul Paynter called the announcement “a big win”, but an action that should have been taken a year ago. “It costs about $8k to get them through MIQ (including paying them while they are there). Given our Samoan workers come from a Covid free country with I think only one case caught at the border, it’s nice not to put them in MIQ where Covid regularly resides. They should have done this a year ago as Samoa was always less likely to have Covid than we were.”

And he noted it is still unclear what total number will be allowed to work. “The question is how many will be allowed to enter and work. Once employers have an ATR (approval to recruit) they can secure their staff and get a work visa into their passports. So the critical details are as yet unknown. In 2019 the number in NZ was 14,400 but cabinet approved an increase to 16,000 for the two subsequent years, until Covid came along.”

Looking ahead: “I have 94 people in the packhouse currently and I don’t need any of them unless we can get the crop picked.” 

The announcement is huge good news for the three Pacific countries as well, as income earned by their overseas workers is a major contributor to their economies.

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