About 2000 restaurants are switching the lights off and suspending service for two minutes today over staffing shortages connected to visa problems.

The “lights out” protest will take place at 11.30am and 7pm - depending on an outlet’s operating hours. It’s about highlighting ongoing staff shortages connected to immigration policy, businesses say. 

Overall, the hospitality industry is heavily reliant on foreign workers. However, uncertainty around visa extensions and conditions for workers since Covid-19 has made it increasingly difficult to provide certainty for staff and outlets. 

Just last month, the Government extended working holiday and supplementary seasonal employment visas due to expire between June and the end of December for another six months. It also confirmed it would be the final extension for essential skills work visas, but that the duration of essential skills visas for jobs below the median wage would increase from six to 12 months. 

While that provided some certainty for the immediate future, the Restaurant Association - which represents 2500 businesses - says more needs to be done. 

Chand Sahrawat, who co-owns Auckland restaurants Cassia, Sidart and Sid at the French Café with her husband Sid, says about half of her workforce are visa holders.  

“They deserve to have some reassurance about their future in New Zealand after working hard with us for so many years,” Chand said in a statement. 

“We want the government to open up constructive dialogue with us about the future of the industry and how it can best work for Kiwis and migrants so it can remain the vibrant, inclusive and diverse industry that diners love.”

Chand is reportedly closing all three restaurants for two weeks over the school holidays as there simply aren’t enough staff to keep them operating. 

“We will be talking to our diners [tonight] so that they understand the need for us to be supported by the government especially as our industry has already been impacted severely by Covid-19,” Chand says. 

Specifically, the Restaurant Association wants urgent additional visa extensions for employer assisted work visa holders currently in New Zealand, border exceptions for critical workers from the hospitality industry and an extension to the number of hours international students can work. 

“The situation is beyond critical and is seriously impacting our businesses from keeping their doors open,” association chief executive Marisa Bidois says.