Hospitality Business Magazine

Visa dilemmas versus chef shortages

A dozen Queenstown chef jobs were advertised on the Seek job site in the last 14 days, but employers say we shouldn’t hasten to read too much into that with a number of the jobs advertised believed to be from employers meeting government requirements to re-advertise for Kiwis.

With serious shortages of Kiwi chefs and hospitality workers for some time now, much of Queenstown’s hospitality workforce, pre-Covid-19, was made up of overseas workers on work visas. Many of them are still in Queenstown and now looking for work.

Southern Hospitality manager and co-owner of The Hayes, Mark Latham is advertising for a chef de partie. It’s a requirement, he says, to advertise the position because his existing chef’s work visa is about to expire and he wants to keep him on, if possible.

“Immigration New Zealand requires us to re-advertise, both locally and nationally, before an existing overseas employee on a visa can have their expiring visa processed and renewed,” says Mark. “We have to prove first that there are no suitably skilled Kiwis to fill the position,” he says.

Out of 64 applicants for the job so far only two were Kiwis, five were Australians, with the rest all requiring work visas, whether that be for one year after completing training, spouse-related or needing full sponsorship, he says. A job advertised prior to Covid-19 would have normally attracted only about 10 applicants, he says.

Mark and wife, Erica, did manage to hire a new head chef recently after their Australian head chef decided to head home with lockdown looming. The current head chef had worked on superyachts overseas and was unable to return there, says Mark. He and Erica have seven or eight chefs and normally about 5 of them are sponsored on work visas.

Will Eaglesfield – executive chef of the Eichardts Collection, which includes Eichardt’s Private Hotel, The Spire and nearby Lakefront Apartments, had only received six CV’s for a couple of chef’s positions by this week – just one was a Kiwi. His ad incorporated both – one new position to be filled and a bid to keep on his existing Israeli chef, whose visa was also up for renewal. Will says he had lost a number of staff who’d returned to their home countries amid the Covid-19 crisis but was able to retain his team of 14 chefs across three properties, thanks to the government wage subsidy. He was surprised to have only received six applications in the current job climate.  

A spokesperson for Immigration New Zealand says employers are generally required to check that no New Zealanders are available to do the work being offered, and provide evidence of genuine attempts to recruit New Zealanders before looking to hire migrant workers.

Employers may choose to advertise the vacancy by recruitment agencies or posting online ads as part of this evidence, she says. There are a range of visas. Some work visas are employer-assisted, meaning the visa is tied to an individual employer and the role being offered, such as an essential skills work visa, she says. Other visa types have specific work conditions, meaning the visa holder has the right to work for any employer, but only for a certain amount of time.

“New Zealand’s labour and employment market has been significantly impacted by COVID-19,” she says.  “Immigration New Zealand (INZ) may ask employers to provide further evidence, to show that the availability of New Zealanders to undertake the work, remains unchanged, and that the employment offer is still valid.”