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As MIQ spots open up, Otago mayor pleads to Govt for fruit pickers to be prioritised

As hundreds of managed isolation and quarantine spots have been made available for April, Otago's mayor has issued a plea to the Government asking for fruit pickers to get first dibs as struggling growers have been "brought to tears" amid the pandemic.

Apple picking. Source: istock.com

In a letter to Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi today, Central Otago District Mayor Tim Cadogan pleaded for the horticulture sector, which has suffered with New Zealand's borders closed to usual overseas workers.

Cadogan said the industry was in "desperate need" for more Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) scheme workers.

"I do not need to emphasise that things here are getting worse, not better," he wrote.

"I have recently seen growers brought to tears and frustration for the apple picking season ahead and the work required after that to ensure we have a crop next year.

"The loss financially to individual growers, the economy of my district and our nation will be devastating if we cannot harvest the fruit currently on the trees and ensure pruning and so forth for the next season is undertaken."

Cadogan said with it being the last day of March, he could not forsee hundreds of New Zealanders abroad taking advantage of April's new spots.

Empty rooms come at a cost to taxpayers, who paid $499 million towards managed isolation last year.

But he said the horticulture industry would jump at the chance to fill the openings with workers, calling the sudden emergence of MIQ vacancies "a Godsend".

"Can you please ensure that these vacant rooms do not go to waste and are urgently secured for RSE workers if demand is not forthcoming from expat New Zealanders?" Cadogan pleaded.

"These vacancies could be the answer to what seemed an insurmountable problem."

MIQ did not explain the possible reasons for so many vacancies emerging in April.