Quiet season and visa changes prompts plea to Queenstown employers

by Lauren Pattemore - Apr 12, 2024

As Queenstown enters a slow down from the summer peak, the Citizen Advice Bureau is reminding accredited employers to uphold their sponsorship agreement requirements and get schooled up on new rules.

Manager Tracy Poole says the Citizens Advice Bureau sees the most migrants coming in at this time of year, particularly asking for help after their employer has dropped their hours below the agreement or are using their holiday pay to top up hours.

New requirements were introduced to the accredited employer working holiday visa scheme by the government over the weekend.

The government is now requiring a certain level of English and prior work experience or relevant education from these overseas workers. 

Dani Mercado, a migrant support worker for Kiwi Kit Community, and a migrant herself, says "it's going to be harder" for migrants now, especially since English lessons are upwards of $360 a week in Queenstown at the Southern Lakes English College. 

"When borders opened in 2021, they needed workers...a lot of people came here with no English."

In 2021, Ms Mercado met with now-immigration minister Erica Stanford and explained the difficulties of upskilling in English in Queenstown.

Now, she says Kiwi Kit Community, a non-profit charity established in Queenstown by migrants and for migrants, is trying to provide free English lessons.

She reckons New Zealand should take a page from Canada's book - when she lived over there, English language lessons were available to everyone, even those on working holiday visas, whereas in New Zealand, free lessons are only available locally after you've gained residency. 

The changes by the government mean those from non-native English-speaking countries will now have to take a language test to show their ability before employment under the AEWV.

However, CAB's Ms Poole says they’re yet to find anyone holding the requisite English tests locally in Queenstown, and the closest they’ve found is in Invercargill.

Ms Poole is also reminding employers wanting to hire staff for the winter period, that they should get their applications in now or they could face major delays.

At the moment, she says, it’s taking 14 weeks to process an AEWV, and nine weeks for a job token.

CAB has also sent recommendations for the AEWV to the immigration minister, asking for a Queenstown pilot that will fast-track migrants seeking help, and allow them to switch employers more easily.

They're still waiting to hear back on it. 

In the past year, the bureau has assisted 20 people in Queenstown to receive exploited migrant visa after they were treated poorly by their local employers.

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