24 Oct 2020

UK migrant appeals for exemption: 'NZ social workers are stretched'

9:45 am on 24 October 2020

A British social worker says overseas staff are desperately needed here and they should be allowed a border exemption.

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WHO have recently published a damning report about child wellbeing in New Zealand, yet social workers are not allowed in to help, a British woman says (file picture). Photo: 123RF

Sarah Griffin, her husband and two children are among those rejected after applying to travel to New Zealand.

She said New Zealand was crying out for social workers, especially to address domestic violence and with initiatives such as eliminating rheumatic fever. Social work experts were the people going into homes and making referrals to health authorities.

"You've got to look at Covid where we've had more poverty, more domestic abuse, all these things, social work is even more important," she said. "Social workers in New Zealand are so stretched, so the children and families are just not getting what they need."

Griffin, who is also a trained midwife, is shocked social workers are not included in health-related exemptions. She has a job offer that has been kept open in Tauranga.

"The only way people can get an exemption when you look at exemption criteria there's literally nothing, because you need a salary of $106,000 but my salary is $85,000," she said. "What we were hoping is that social workers would be added to the health exemption as that covers child disability and mental health.

"I have requested this exemption several times and been turned down as I am not a health professional.

"The New Zealand government appear to be focusing on high wages to determine skill level, they have not looked at professionals that are needed who would not be paid twice the median wage. The WHO [World Health Organisation] have recently published a damning report about child wellbeing in New Zealand yet we cannot enter to help New Zealand children.

"Vets are now allowed in to assist animals, why are children not being considered?"

Oranga Tamariki comfortable with staffing

In a statement, Oranga Tamariki said social worker numbers have risen 33 percent to 1793 since 2017 and it is on track to meet its staffing target again this year.

"We have not asked for any border exemptions," Oranga Tamariki's chief social worker, Grant Bennett said. "There are a handful of overseas social workers that were offered positions shortly before border restrictions were put in place due to Covid-19 and [they] have subsequently been unable to enter New Zealand.

"We have been providing assistance to immigration advisors and lawyers working on behalf of those people. While we understand this has put some of these people in a difficult position we are fully supportive of the border measures, which are in place to protect the health of people in New Zealand.

"Since the border closures, we have not attempted to recruit any international social workers."

Historically, family violence increased in times of stress, he said. During the nationwide lockdown, there was a reduction in the reports of concern reported for children, given that they were not being seen by teachers and health workers.

"The Reports of Concern we saw during lockdown were comparable in number to what we would expect to see during a school holiday period such as Easter or Christmas," he added.

The acting immigration policy manager at MBIE, Andrew Craig, said social workers were not considered critical health workers so were not exempt from border restrictions.

"MBIE is also not aware of any requests for a border class exception for social workers," he said. "Tight border restrictions are part of the government's strategy to protect New Zealand against Covid-19 and the ability and right of New Zealanders to return home. There are some exceptions to the current border restrictions but the bar to be granted an exception remains high.

"Border settings are constantly reviewed. The government's decisions on border exceptions take into account a large number of factors, including humanitarian reasons, reuniting families, economic needs, and ensuring sufficient skills, experience and talents are available.

"All exceptions must deliver a clear benefit for New Zealand and the impact on managed isolation and quarantine capacity must be manageable.

"Individual employers are also able to support workers who are in New Zealand to get Essential Skills visas to continue to work, where they meet the relevant requirements."

Capacity in managed isolation (MIQ) is now 6261 - down from 7274 - after a change in the way it is reported in order to take into account 1014 places set aside for contingencies, such as quarantine, air crews and live-in staff.

Under that measure, the average daily vacancies during October so far have been 1291.

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