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By Jason Brown

AVARUA, Cook Islands (March 3 2001 – Cook Islands News)---Tourists love visiting Rarotonga but it seems they don’t want to work here.

Fewer than 10 visitors have taken up the offer of temporary work since permit rules were relaxed in June last year, said Principal Immigration Officer Tutai Toru.

"It’s almost in the double digits," said Toru yesterday when asked about the number of permits.

Double digits?

"Close to 10," he confirmed.

Immigration "loosened" their permit rules in response to lobbying of the government by tourism operators desperate for staff.

Tourism arrivals — to 72,000 last year — have been increasing faster than the rate of departing residents, with the local population hitting a half-century low in December.

Toru explained the small response to local work as possibly being that it takes a year or longer before word gets around that jobs are available in the Cook Islands and that visitors can work here.

Immigration supports the looser permit rules as a way of maintaining professional standards, especially in the tourism industry, says Toru.

Tourism is by far the country’s biggest industry. Advertisements for hospitality staff appear on television and newspapers every day. Part of the problem may be that many tourism operators are still confused over the new rules.

One restaurant owner yesterday welcomed the temporary permits as if they had just been passed recently rather than seven months ago. A three-month minimum imposed by Immigration worried him however, describing it as "impractical." Most tourists do not plan staying that long, says the restaurant owner. But Toru says there is no three-month minimum.

"I don’t know where he got that from. If you come here as a tourist and find there is a vacancy and you have the credentials and the employer is quite happy to take you on then the employer can apply for a temporary permit for you."

No minimum period applies, he says. The only limit is to how long they can work — a maximum of six months. Their employers can apply for an extension to that but, so far, "no one has pursued an extension."

For additional reports from the Cook Islands News Online, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/Cook Islands News Online.

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