Govt told: fix work permit woes
By BEN HEATHER in Auckland - The Southland Times
Last updated 05:00 10/06/2009

Tourism operators are pushing the Government to process work permit applications faster, because hotspots such as Queenstown are losing skilled overseas workers because of tighter immigration rules.

At the Trenz trade show in Auckland yesterday, Tourism Industry Association chief executive Tim Cossar said many operators had been caught out when work permits for employees were not renewed or were delayed to the point of uselessness.

Immigration rules say overseas workers can be given a job only if a New Zealander with the necessary skills cannot be found. With more Kiwis unemployed, the rule is being enforced more stringently, with mandatory labour-market tests for every application.

It was understandable the Government wanted to protect New Zealand jobs, but permit applications needed to be processed more quickly, especially in spots such as Queenstown, where many businesses relied heavily on overseas workers, Mr Cossar said.

"We are saying to people who already have (overseas) employees to start the process earlier ... but we also agreeing (with the Government) on timeframes when these decisions need to be made."

The association is asking for a commitment from Government to make a decision on applications within two months and tourism business would be advised to file applications with three months to spare, he said.

The Government has yet to make a formal commitment to the these timeframes.

Delays in processing applications have long been a sore point with Queenstown employers.The Southland Times knows of one worker in the Otago region who had to wait until the day her work permit expired to know whether she could stay in the country, as Immigration New Zealand searched unsuccessfully for a Kiwi to fill her job.

Associate Tourism Minister Dr Jonathan Coleman also spoke at Trenz yesterday, highlighting how tourism would be vital in pulling New Zealand through these "recessionary times".

From here.