The borders have reopened for migrant workers for the dairy industry, but they need to know what they’re doing – newbies need not apply. Story by Karen Trebilcock.

For those desperate for staff, the long-awaited opening of our borders post-Covid will come as some relief although the July date is hardly in time for calving.

Dairying, with its estimated 4000 much-needed staff, has somehow missed out being prioritised by Immigration New Zealand (INZ) and is under the Accredited Employer Work Visa (AEWV) scheme.

The good news is, under the scheme, dairy farm managers, assistants and herd managers can apply for residency after two years working in New Zealand.

So the migrant you employ, train and get to know doesn’t have to leave if all goes well and they can bring their families with them.

But the bad news is they must have had at least three years’ experience working on a commercial dairy farm in a similar role before coming here.

You also must pay them at least NZ’s median wage which is currently $27/hour but is reviewed yearly and about to be announced for this year. My guess is it will go up.

Migrants must apply to work here under the immigration code Dairy Cattle Farmer ANZSCO 121313 (ANZSCO stands for Australian and New Zealand Standard Classification of Occupations) and there is a very long list of what they must be capable of doing before they get here from meeting environmental regulations through management of soil, nutrients, effluent and water efficiently to being able to supervise and train other staff to milk cows.

In other words, the person you bring in from overseas now must be competent in the role before they come here. You’re not employing a newbie to the industry.

So, there is a list of things you must do to get one.

First, you must become accredited to apply to hire migrants so INZ can make sure you are a viable business, meet immigration and employment standards and will not exploit anyone. This will take an estimated 10 working days, according to INZ.

Once you are accredited (don’t laugh at this next bit), you must do what’s called a job check which is to advertise the position for at least two weeks on a national listing website or channel to make sure there are no suitable NZers you could hire and train for the role.

Why you would go through the process of becoming accredited and pay the fees if you could hire a NZer, I have no idea.

However, if you want to pay twice NZ’s median wage or if the job is on the government’s green list, you don’t have to advertise and get a job check.

Unfortunately, no dairy farming roles are on the green list.

Job checks are valid for six months and INZ is estimating they will take 10 working days to process.

Once you have it, you can then ask the migrant to apply for their work visa by sending them the job token number INZ has given you which they include in their visa application.

Allow 20 working days for the processing of the visa application.

So that’s 10 working days to be accredited, two weeks of advertising and another 10 working days to process the fact that you have advertised and found no one and then 20 working days for the visa application to be approved which adds up to about two and a half months of waiting and doing paperwork before your new employee can get on a plane.

But while you are filling in paperwork, so is your new employee.

They must provide to INZ a copy of their signed employment offer, show they have an acceptable standard of health and evidence they are of good character (which might require a police certificate).

Also, their skills and experience must match the skills and experience you gave to INZ as part of your job check application. So they will be asked for references and evidence of qualifications to make sure they meet the ANZSCO 121313 classification.

As their employer, when they arrive in the country, you are also required to help them and their family settle in.

Finding accommodation, assisting with setting up bank accounts and showing them where the local supermarket is are all encouraged if not mandatory.

Which makes sense. After spending two and a half months getting them here, you want them to stay, settle in and be happy.

If you don’t want to google government websites and try to figure out how this all works, you can employ a recruitment agency that deals with immigration. They know all the forms to fill out and can advise you at every step (and correct anything I might have got wrong in this article).

Of course, another way is to employ young people who have Working Holiday Visas. Young travellers wanting to see the world are fun to have around, bring different cultures and traditions, and are eager to learn and experience new things.

Some may never have seen a cow before so expect a few laughs, a few shocked faces and whatever you do make sure they understand what you have told them to do because their Netflix and school-taught English might not be as good as it seems.

To qualify they must be aged between 18 to 30, or 35 for some countries. They can stay in NZ and work for up to 12 months, or up to 23 months if they are from the United Kingdom or Canada.

They can’t come for a permanent job, but seasonal work is fine although some countries have restrictions on how long the job can be for.

They can’t bring their children and partners have to apply on a separate visa.

Although our agriculture minister knows in the past young people from overseas will milk your cows for nothing if you provide them with accommodation, today you should pay them at least the minimum wage for every hour worked and check with your accountant about holiday pay.

Ask to see their electronic work visa to make sure they are eligible to work while here and make sure they have an IRD number. If they don’t, it’s easy to get them one.

Fingers crossed the opening of our borders will see employment issues ease but whatever you do, when you get that great employee, make sure you keep them.