- Country of destination: New Zealand
- Country of origin: Fiji, Kiribati, The Republic of the Marshall Islands, The Federated States of Micronesia, Nauru, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, The Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu, and Vanuatu
- Sectors: Agriculture, Horticulture, and Food Processing
- Skill level: Low
- Timeline: 2007 - ongoing
- Number of beneficiaries: Capped at 14,400 per year
The Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) scheme allows for the temporary entry of low-skilled seasonal workers within the horticulture and viticulture industries. The scheme allows workers from a range of Pacific Island countries to work in New Zealand for up to seven months at a time. In 2020/21, the cap was set at 14,400 workers.
Why was it started?
New Zealand’s horticulture and viticulture industries have been expanding rapidly since the mid-2000s. It suffers from shortages of seasonal labor. A 2008 study found that the shortage and poor quality of labor was costing the horticultural industry NZD$180–300 million a year.
The RSE scheme was envisioned as a way to meet the industry’s labor needs while helping foster economic growth and regional integration throughout the Pacific. At the time the scheme was launched, in mid-2007, it was the only significant offshore seasonal work opportunity available to Pacific Island countries.
How does it work?
In designing the scheme, the New Zealand government sought to learn from previous similar programs. It required employers to lodge their vacancies with local work providers before attempting to recruit offshore. Once granted recognized employer status, employers are able to recruit from either a work-ready pool, through an agent, or directly. Employers must pay half of their employee’s airfare and ensure that workers have access to accommodation and food, medical insurance and health services, translation services, and religious and cultural activities.
The scheme provides 7-month visas in any 11-month period. It is open to citizens throughout the Pacific Islands. Jobs are strictly seasonal, and repeat recruitment is encouraged. Workers are not allowed to bring their families. The initial cap was 5,000 a year. It was steadily increased over time. It is now set at 14,400 workers a year. In 2019–20, 11,152 workers came to New Zealand under the scheme, most of them from Vanuatu, Samoa, and Tonga.
What impact has it had?
Although the RSE scheme provides a relatively small number of workers, it has played a critical role in enabling the expansion of the sector while reducing potential abuses. Few policies have been as rigorously evaluated and emerged with as clean a bill of health.
The scheme has been beneficial to both employers and employees. According to the most recent employer survey (2019), 96 percent of employers felt the benefits of engaging workers through the program outweighed the costs, 80 percent were able to invest in new equipment as result of the hires, and 82 percent were able to hire additional New Zealanders. Employees also benefited. Between 2010 and 2014, RSE workers earned more than NZD$460 million in gross income. A 2010 study found that per capita incomes of participating households rose by 30 percent. A study of 640 workers from Samoa and Tonga conducted in 2014–15 found that they remitted 42 percent of their take-home pay.
- Gibson, J., and D. McKenzie. 2014. “Development through seasonal worker programs: The case of New Zealand’s RSE program.” Policy Research Working Paper 6762, World Bank, Washington, DC.
- New Zealand Immigration. “Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) scheme research.”
- Nunns, H., C. Bedford, and R. Bedford. 2020. RSE impact study: Synthesis report.
- Winters, A.L. 2016. “New Zealand’s Recognised Seasonal Employer scheme: An object lesson in policy making–but for whom?” Working Paper 34, Migrating out of Poverty Research Programme Consortium.