Tougher immigration rules may spell disaster
By BEN HEATHER - The Southland Times
Last updated 05:00 31/03/2009

Tougher immigration rules could spell disaster for Queenstown, which relies heavily on workers on temporary visas, Queenstown Hoteliers said.

The comments were made during a New Zealand Hotel Council meeting in Queenstown yesterday, where hoteliers vented their frustration at the Labour Department's approach to temporary visas.

Hotel council chairwoman Jennie Langley said the department had, in just the past few days, investigated the suspension of temporary visas to protect New Zealand jobs.

A survey, presented to the Labour Department in February, showed that of the 2100 worker in Queenstown hotels and adventure activities, 900 were on temporary visas, Ms Langley said.

"That is a big issue for us, both in Queenstown and nationally," she said.

Tourism Industry Association chief executive Tim Cossar said political momentum was moving towards more visa restrictions to protect New Zealand jobs, which was not good news for the tourism or Queenstown.

"There is some degree of naivete that people are just going to move anywhere to get a job. We are already hearing about serious skill shortage in all areas," Mr Crossar said.

Destination Queenstown chairwoman Erna Spijkerbosch said the damage was already being done, with visa uncertainty and delays pushing workers to return home.

"They are looking at the situation and leaving earlier," she said. "We are going to run out of staff."

Currently, employers have to show they cannot find a suitable New Zealander to fill a role before employing someone on a temporary visa. When that visa comes up for renewal, the person's job must be re-advertised.

Queenstown's employers, particularly in the tourism industry, have raised complaints about how long visa applications take.

One Queenstown employee on a temporary visa told The Southland Times he was cheated out of redundancy payment because his work permit expired. He had applied for a renewal months in advance but when his employers found out it had lapsed they dropped the redundancy process and fired him instead.

At the meeting, Queenstown Lakes District Mayor Clive Geddes also raised concerns about the Labour Department not understanding Queenstown's unique position. "As unemployment rises we are going to get swamped with bright-eyed government programmes (for unemployment). We can't afford to be part of other people's solution," he said.

The meeting also had a presentation by Covec economist Shane Vuletich , who went through figures showing a drop in most tourism indicators. Queenstown was also more exposed because of its greater reliance on international tour groups rather than domestic tourism, he said.

The Labour Department could not provide comment before publication.

From here.