Henry Puna told Parliament the government supported this move; it would conserve the “limited resources” it has at its disposal to support Cook Islanders during this Covid-19 crisis.
However, repatriating workers was impossible at the moment as the borders to the countries most of these foreign workers come from are still closed.
Andrew Whittaker, chief executive of Island Hotels Group, said some of their foreign workers “definitely” wanted to return to their home countries.
But they’d had no meetings with them to discuss this issue.
The company, which owns Edgewater Resort and Spa and Club Raro Hotel, employs a large number of Fijian and Filipino workers.
Whittaker said they would consider government’s decision to allow these workers to voluntarily return to their countries.
Government is pumping millions of dollars into an economic recovery plan, including a wage subsidy mainly aimed at the tourism industry. The majority of foreign workers living on Rarotonga are employed by this industry.
Puna said: “Some of our major employers have advised us that many of their foreign workers want to return back to their countries. The government fully support this request. The government intends to preserve our limited resources to look after our people.”
Puna also confirmed the responsibility of sending the expat workers back to their countries was on their employers.