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Frustration at trying to secure staff has taken the gloss off a booming return to business for Ohau Snow Fields and Lake Ohau Lodge owner Mike Neilson.

During lockdown the lodge lost “6000 guest nights” over a three-month period. But bookings were filling up quickly as people who had originally planned overseas holidays opted to support local instead, Mr Neilson said. But he and wife Louise were being worked off their feet.

“Louise and myself are about to fall over,” he said.

“We’re very heavily booked.

“Our big struggle is that we’re finding it really hard to find staff.”

Mr Neilson said they had positions available for a chef, one or two housekeepers and a bar person.

He had found people to fill the positions, but they were not New Zealanders and he could not get their visas transferred.

“We advertised in Queenstown and got applications from foreign nationals who are stuck, because of Covid, in Queenstown, and we’re trying to get their immigration visas transferred to us, and they’re [Immigration New Zealand] just being really difficult.

“They’re not giving them. Which is really painful.

“They’re saying we need to find New Zealanders, but we’re not finding New Zealanders. New Zealanders are staying in Queenstown. They’ve got a house and they don’t want to move. Whereas the overseas people are happy to move. That’s why they’re travelling anyway.

“They’re [Immigration NZ] putting us through hell, because we are absolutely understaffed at the moment.

“There was a couple of [New Zealand] guys who applied, and my analysis to Immigration was that they’re not suitable. They’re not housekeepers.

“They’d applied saying they’re happy to do anything, and apply for all these jobs you’ve got’. But they weren’t specifically housekeepers and we didn’t have a job for them.

“Immigration are saying we could’ve employed them, they were New Zealanders.”

Mr Neilson said he was reluctant to employ people who were not suited to the job.

“They’re not going to last. I don’t just want average,” he said.

Immigration NZ Border and Visa Operations general manager Nicola Hogg said Covid-19 had ”significantly impacted New Zealand’s labour and employment market”.

”Under immigration instructions, Immigration NZ needs to be satisfied that, at the time the application is assessed, there are no New Zealanders available to do the work before granting an Essential Skills work visa. This also applies for a variation of conditions to be granted.

”[We] may ask employers to provide further evidence to show that the availability of New Zealanders to undertake the work remains unchanged.

”In terms of visa processing . . . there is also an increase in the time and effort required in processing some visa application types due to additional requests for information or comment being required.”

There was a range of visas that allowed migrants to work in New Zealand, she said.

”Some work visas are employer-assisted, meaning the visa is linked to the role being offered, such as an Essential Skills work visa. Where this is the case, visa holders may be able to apply for a variation of conditions in order to change some of the employment conditions that they are subject to, such as location, and employer. If an individual’s work visa is linked to a specific job, that visa will remain valid for as long as the job is available.”

Meanwhile, the Snow Fields opened for the season on Saturday and had a record opening day with 208 people on the slopes.

Mr Neilson said there was a good cover of snow and everyone “had a lovely day, I’m sure”. Another 10cm fell on Monday and things were looking good for the season, he said.