Simon Gault is the latest and most high-profile chef to speak out about the government’s proposed changes to immigration laws. Gault has recently opened his new restaurant Giraffe on Auckland’s Viaduct Harbour, but is struggling to find staff members.

"It's almost impossible to get staff to work at restaurants, and you have to rely on the people coming in [from overseas],” he said, challenging lawmakers to work a shift in his restaurant to understand the pressures of hospitality. “A lot of these people coming in come from a lifestyle of families, from hospitality, and they come with a lot of skill that we don't have in New Zealand.”

Gault is one of many to have spoken out against the proposed changes to the Skilled Migrant Category, announced in April and set to come into force on August 14. The changes mean that immigrant workers in a number of jobs now need to earn a minimum of $48,859 a year in order to earn points and gain a pathway to residency.

Olaf’s Artisan Bakery Café in Mt Eden is another establishment already feeling the roll-on effects of the new immigration policy, with five of the café’s 25 workers already having resigned.

“They want to move to Hamilton, Tauranga, to try to pick up extra points to get through their immigration applications before the rules change,” said co-owner Robert Heeps. The café is having trouble finding new workers because immigrants were rethinking a career in hospitality, meaning it was difficult to employ staff with necessary skills. As a result they have shortened their hours, posting a notice on their door urging customers to lobby the immigration minister.

According to figures supplied by the Restaurant Association, the hospitality industry is a $9 billion per year industry that employs over 120,000 employees across 17,000 businesses. “Despite the policy makers’ argument to the contrary, the hospitality industry currently suffers from a labour shortage,” said CEO Marisa Bidois. “We rely on skilled workers from overseas to fill the void. When no suitable New Zealanders are available strategies that ensure migrant workers can continue to be a part of the hospitality mix are important.”

In a seven-page submission to MBIE, the Restaurant Association argues that a fundamental problem exists in that the policy currently takes a ‘one size fits’ all approach, ignoring the substantial differences between local and regional economies and labour markets. In addition to this the policy also fails to address differences in each sector that will be affected by the proposed changes to policy, particularly within the hospitality industry.

The submission takes issue with the minimum salary level, which is high considering the average hospitality wage, in conjunction with the duration of the visas. “The maximum three year duration for visa holders that do not meet the remuneration threshold for certain roles does not mirror the typical skills pathway for our industry. For example, a Chef de Partie would generally require five years to reach the higher skill level that may elevate them into one of the more senior roles where different visa conditions apply (eg Sous chef).”

The Restaurant Association submission recommends that for certain roles in the hospitality industry the maximum duration of the essential skills visa should be set as three years, with no limit to the number of times someone can reapply and a pathway to residence.

Immigration Minister Michael Woodhouse told Restaurant and Café that the government has considered the submissions and intends to make an announcement in the coming weeks.

“I want to reassure the hospitality industry that employers will continue to be able to employ migrant labour where there are genuine labour shortages and they can prove there is no New Zealander available to do the job,” he said. “However, we also want to ensure that the conditions under which migrants are coming to New Zealand are clear.”