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Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) Scheme

The Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) Scheme allows horticulture and viticulture industry employers in the scheme to recruit overseas workers for seasonal work when there are not enough New Zealand workers.

28 June 2023
5 minute read

The Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) scheme was announced in October 2006 and came into effect in April 2007. It allows the horticulture and viticulture industries to recruit workers from overseas for seasonal work when there are not enough New Zealand workers available.

The RSE scheme has an administrative limit, or cap, on the number of RSE places that can be taken up in a year. This cap was set at 5,000 places when the scheme was established in 2007. However, its success has led to increased demand from employers, and the cap has been increased over time. For the 2023 to 2024 season, the cap has increased to 19,500. This is 500 more than the 19,000 cap for the 2022 to 2023 season.

The increase for 2023 to 2024 reflects the request from industry for access to more workers, while balancing the effects on the New Zealand labour market. It also takes into account expected labour market conditions in the coming year and the availability of suitable accommodation.  

The Government determines the cap for RSE workers. Decisions on regional allocations are made by Immigration New Zealand (INZ) and the Ministry of Social Development (MSD) in consultation with industry.

Employers in New Zealand (or their representatives) recruit individual workers, completing visa applications and managing travel arrangements, overseen by a labour sending unit in the partner country.

Unless employers can show they have pre-established relationships with workers from other countries prior to the commencement of RSE in 2007, they can only recruit workers under RSE policy from the following eligible Pacific countries: Fiji, Kiribati, Nauru, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) supports Pacific countries to maximise their participation and works closely with labour sending units to prepare workers before they travel to New Zealand.

Workers must meet health and character requirements and provide evidence of arrangements to leave New Zealand at the end of their stay. They can stay in New Zealand for up to 7 months during any 11-month period. Exceptions to this are workers from Tuvalu and Kiribati, who can stay for 9 months because of the distance from New Zealand and the cost of travel (employers are only required to pay half the return airfare between Fiji and New Zealand).

Employer obligations

Employers apply to INZ to become a Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE). As part of RSE status application processing, INZ must be satisfied that the employer is in a sound financial position and has good workplace and human resources practices, including a history of compliance with immigration and employment law. They will also need to show that they are committed to recruiting and training New Zealanders to work in their industry. 

RSE employers must comply with minimum remuneration of 30 hours a week, regardless of availability of work and pay deductions requirements. RSE workers must be paid the market rate for the job. Employment agreements need to specify the hourly rate, any piece rates that apply, minimum remuneration requirements and that the employer will pay for half the return airfare from the worker's home country to New Zealand (except workers from Tuvalu and Kiribati as explained above).

All workers receive information on RSE rights and responsibilities. RSE employers are responsible for ensuring RSE workers’ welfare and pastoral care needs are met. Employers are provided support and advice on standards and obligations, and conditions are monitored closely.

RSE employers must make available safe and suitable accommodation and on-site facilities at work for their workers. Workers are expected to pay fair rent, power and other living costs associated with their accommodation. Deductions under RSE Instructions must be for actual, reasonable and verifiable costs, so maximum amounts are not specified.

In 2019 new requirements were introduced that restricted further RSE employer use of residential accommodation. This was done to reduce the risk of increased demand for public housing due to the RSE cap increase. Exemptions are allowed for regions with low housing pressure.

Border restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic meant fewer RSE workers were able to enter the country for the 2020-2021 season. It also meant that some workers stayed longer in New Zealand due to travel and border restrictions for their home countries.

In November 2020, a border exception was granted for around 2,000 experienced Pacific Island RSE workers to enter New Zealand. The recruitment and flight allocation of RSE workers was co-ordinated by industry bodies and all workers under this exception arrived between January and March 2021.

In May 2021, a second border exception for RSE workers was announced allowing 150 workers to enter the country every 16 days until March 2022. Once border restrictions eased, the recruitment process returned to being employer-led with direct engagement by employers with Pacific countries.

RSE scheme research and statistics

A full review of the RSE scheme is underway. The policy review is looking at a:

  • sustainable long-term administrative settings that work effectively for the government and employers
  • scheme that respects RSE workers and upholds their rights and dignity through an improved set of policies and guidelines, backed by consistent and ethical employment practices.

Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) Scheme policy review