Workers from overseas stuck in New Zealand

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Michael Grimes and Caolan Duffy planned to be in New Zealand for only six months, working for an Alexandra contractor, but they are unable to return home to Ireland.

Mr Grimes had been working for Reid Gare, of Central Rural Services in Alexandra, since October 15 last year under an essential skills visa.

He was supposed to fly out on April 20, just after the Covid-19 border restrictions were imposed.

“It was not possible to leave, but Immigration New Zealand sent us emails at that time saying our visas had been extended.”

His visa was due to run out on September 23, while Mr Duffy, who is also working for Mr Gare, on a one-year working holiday visa, was due to leave two days earlier and both were concerned about remaining in the country without the paperwork.

However, Mr Grimes was pleased to hear of the Government’s decision this week to make short-term changes to temporary work visas, so workers could extend their time in New Zealand.

Changes include extending all existing employer-assisted temporary work visas by six months for people who are in New Zealand and whose visas are due to expire before the end of this year.

That automatically includes most visa holders and will benefit around 16,500 essential skills and work to residence visa holders in the country.

“It was good to hear that the Government had listened,” Mr Grimes said.

Mr Grimes has a 48ha mixed farm in Ballinrobe, County Mayo, and was looking forward to returning for lambing and calving, although his parents were keeping an eye on it, while Mr Duffy, who lives near Donegal, has a baleage, silage and slurry business as well as a 40ha farm.

“My mother is a nurse and said it was pretty bad where they were with the virus, and it would be safer here,” Mr Duffy said.

Both have continued to work for Mr Gare, maintaining the vehicles and equipment or working on a digger, and they receive the Government’s subsidy.

Both have yet to make a decision about whether they return home to visit family or stay with Mr Gare for the following season.

Mr Grimes said even though the Government had extended the visas for those workers already in the country, rural contractors here still had the issue of not being able to bring in enough overseas specialist and experienced workers to run agricultural machinery in time for the next season.

Covid-19 restrictions had meant the usual supply of overseas workers was not available.

“Even though they had extended the visa for us, it is still not going to get overseas workers out here from Ireland, which is another issue.”