Any doubt about the criticality of the migrant workforce in this country will once again be put to rest as Immigration New Zealand has quietly extended visas for international students and temporary migrant workers employed by supermarkets to allow them to work unrestricted under Alert Level 3 & 4.

The INZ has quietly updated its website recently, announcing the latest decision on temporary migrant workers currently onshore and working in different supermarkets, allowing them to work unrestricted every time their respective region goes into Alert Level 3 or 4 lockdowns in the next 12 month period starting from August 20 to July 31, 2021.

The INZ website says that this decision was taken to help supermarkets deal with labour shortage at the time of different levels of lockdown.  

“Visa restrictions have been relaxed for some visa holders to work in supermarkets when a region is in Alert Level 3 or 4, from 20 August 2020 to 31 July 2021.

These changes have been made as supermarkets are facing immediate labour supply issues during COVID-19 and to meet the increased demand for shelf re-stocking,” the update on the INZ website reads.

These changes apply to specified visa holders who are employed by a supermarket on the day before the region enters Alert Level 3 or 4.

As the Auckland region is currently in Alert Level 3, this applies if the visa holder was employed at a supermarket in Auckland on Tuesday 11 August.

What can temporary work visa holders working in supermarkets do?

According to the new instructions, temporary work visa holders employed in a supermarket can work in addition to the conditions specified on their visa whenever their regions are under these Alert Levels.

It will allow temp migrant workers to work in roles beyond their visa restrictions and assist supermarkets in areas experiencing more acute labour shortage such as in - stacking and refilling.

What can international students working in supermarkets do?

International students can work more than the maximum of 20 hours per week provided they continue to meet their study requirements.

The international students are being encouraged to discuss with their education providers on how best to fulfil the requirements for their studies while they work extra hours.

This includes interim visa holders if they held a temporary work or student visa immediately prior to that visa.

Supermarkets mean those operated by:

Woolworths New Zealand – owners of Countdown, Super Value and FreshChoice supermarkets

Foodstuffs Limited – owners of New World, Pak n Save and Four Square.

Also, any change to an employee’s conditions of work must comply with normal New Zealand employment law and the individual or collective employment agreement relevant to the employee.

The criticality of temporary migrant workforce reaffirmed

This is not the first time that the INZ has extended the visa conditions of temporary migrant workers under different levels of lockdown. 

Earlier in March during the national Alert Level 4 lockdown period as well the INZ has made changes in visa conditions of workers working in essential services such as supermarkets, later for those working in other critical sectors like aged-care. 

The recent extension of visas for temporary migrant workers to bolster the labour-shortage is much against "simplistic argument" that has often shaped the seemingly negative world view of some political parties including those in the government that see low-skilled migrant workers with much contempt and unwelcome in the country. 

If the employers are struggling to get the right skilled workers in the current environment that many experts believe is witnessing a massive 8-10 per cent unemployment rates, then there is nothing else to argue that the simplistic arguments against low skilled migrant workers are just ill-founded.