More dairy workers and vets to be allowed into NZ amid 'workforce pressures'

Two hundred more dairy workers and 50 vets will be allowed to enter the country, along with their partners and dependent children, after the Government approved border class exceptions.

Cows getting milked

Agriculture Minister Damien O'Connor said the exceptions would go a long way to relieving "workforce pressures" both sectors are currently facing.

"In making this decision, we’ve balanced the need to keep New Zealanders safe and ensure appropriate MIQ capacity, with seasonal and strategic skills shortages, and seasonal variations for overseas New Zealanders travelling home," he said.

"To relieve workforce pressures, the Government has previously approved exceptions for vets, along with shearers and rural mobile plant machinery operators, and others.

"These new border exceptions will help drive New Zealand’s economic recovery from Covid-19."

The exceptions were welcomed by The Regions immigration law and recruitment firm director Ben De'Ath, who told Breakfast they were “a very good acknowledgment of the problem”.

“We talked a couple of weeks ago and the problem was not being acknowledged,” he said.

Further conversations were needed though, with De'Ath saying how dairy farms would be staffed - and rural communities populated - over the next five to 10 years needed to be discussed.

“We see this as more of a five to 10-year conversation, the border relief is going to relieve some pressure and this pressure is absolutely off the charts.”

De'Ath says staffing challenges had resulted in as many as 15 dairy farming families had left the sector this change of season.

“There are real animal welfare, environmental, and health and safety challenges.”

O'Connor said the Government had been working with the food and fibres sector to mitigate worker shortages through the training and upskilling of Kiwis, but acknowledged this takes time.

"This announcement recognises the immediate need for additional expertise to come through our borders," he said. 

"Dairy managers and vets have specialist skills developed over many years, which we can’t replicate overnight.

"With the new dairy season kicking off last week, migrant dairy farm workers will supplement the domestic workforce and provide critical support.

"Despite the previous border class exception for vets, our domestic vet skill shortage remains acute, including in hard to recruit roles in isolated rural practices," he said. 

Employers will be able to start requesting to bring workers in through the class border exception by the end of the month.

The new border exceptions will enable:

  • Up to 150 dairy farm managers (plus their partners and dependent children) earning above $79,500 per annum for dairy herd manager roles and above $92,000 per annum for assistant dairy farm manager or 2IC managerial roles, up until April 2022
  • Up to 50 dairy farm assistants (plus their partners and dependent children) earning at or above the median wage at the time of application, up until April 2022
  • Up to 50 general practice veterinarians (plus partners and dependent children) earning at or above $85,000 per annum, over 12 months, with 2-3 years of experience across key roles in both urban and rural veterinary settings.