16 Nov 2022

Health advice urging quick action on immigration leaked to ACT

12:51 pm on 16 November 2022
Labour MP Andrew Little

Health Minister Andrew Little. Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

A list of 30 health jobs should immediately be given a fast track to residency, according to Ministry of Health advice leaked to the ACT Party.

The advice provided to Health Minister Andrew Little a week ago warned that failing to add the roles to the Green List would risk delivery of health services.

The Green List, announced as part of the government's immigration rebalance in May, specifies the in-demand jobs to provide permanent residence to migrants hired by accredited employers - either immediately or after two years of work depending on the role.

It is next due to be reassessed in May 2023, but the advice urged Little to act as soon as possible to ensure under-pressure health services could be bolstered before then.

"Officials are strongly advising MBIE that the green list be reviewed immediately in consultation with the ministry, Te Whatu Ora, and Te Aka Whai Ora and that the professions listed in Appendix One are included before mid-2023," the leaked advice said.

The roles it suggested be added included dentists, nurse practitioners, paramedics, and enrolled nurses.

It noted Immigration Minister Michael Wood had agreed on 2 November to put all health roles on the green list, and planned to add 17 roles to it - but had not consulted the ministry, Te Whatu Ora (Health NZ) or Te Aka Whai Ora (the Māori Health Authority).

Hospitals across the country have been under high pressure.

Nurses today warned crowding at North Shore hospital's ambulance bay was leaving patients without privacy or dignity, and doctors and nurses had urged Te Whatu Ora to do more to fix the pressure in emergency departments.

ACT Party health spokesperson and deputy leader Brooke van Velden said the roles listed by the ministry were vital to keeping the health system afloat, and should be added "tomorrow".

"What we're seeing here is that the minister for immigration hasn't asked the health minister to consult with the Health Ministry or Health New Zealand about what their needs are," she said.

"The question on my mind is what is the health minister going to do with this information. We know that he received it a week ago, I would expect that he should go to Cabinet as soon as possible, ask for these 30 health professionals to be added to the green list, and for them to be added tomorrow, rather than at the review in May next year. We need workers and we need workers now."

Deputy leader of ACT party Brooke van Velden

ACT Party deputy leader Brooke van Velden Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

She said the mere fact the advice had been leaked showed public servants were not seeing common sense from the government.

"Every New Zealander except the minister of health and the immigration minister accepts that we have a problem with a health workforce shortage."

She again urged the minister to put nurses and paramedics in particular on the straight-to-residence list.

In a statement, Little said the government had made it easier than ever before for nurses to come to New Zealand, saying they were on the work-to-residence green list.

"Immigration Minister Michael Wood and I have both publicly said many times that we are watching the system and reviewing it and that's what that advice was about. More than 1200 trained nurses have moved to New Zealand so far this year, and hundreds more have applied to come," Little said.

While it is true registered nurses are on the list, the advice makes clear that is not the case for nurse practitioners, enrolled nurses and paramedics.

Little said decisions about which roles were placed on each list had been made before the reforms of the health system came into effect, and "now that it has ... we are getting a clearer picture of workforce needs".

A Cabinet paper released in September showed Little and Associate Health Minister Ayesha Verrall had questioned why nurses and dentists were not being put on the fast track to residence when the policy was drawn up.

They were told by immigration officials in March extending the straight-to-residence policy too widely or to roles where retaining those staff in New Zealand was a known concern, would pose a real risk of making it easy for many migrants to quickly seek residence.

The Ministry of Health's view at the time was the same, that nurses were best kept on the two-year programme, due to concerns over retaining them.

Wood made further announcements about the immigration system last month which included a plan for a "simplified" rework of the Skilled Migrant Visa, which also allows workers to gain residence if they meet a threshold of experience, training and high income.

This was welcomed by some nurses as it would allow them to bypass the two-year requirement.

However, the leaked advice pointed out this excluded several lower-paid health roles.

"These pathways favour higher-paid and higher-skilled professions and exclude some health workers due to median wage requirements," it said.

The full list of roles the ministry recommended be added to the Green List:

  • Enrolled nurse
  • Nurse practitioners
  • Paramedics
  • Pharmacists
  • Pharmacy technicians (dispensary technician)
  • Dentists and orthodontists
  • Dental specialists
  • Dental hygienists
  • Dental and oral health therapists
  • Speech language therapists
  • Neurophysiology
  • Immunologists
  • Rheumatologists
  • Physiotherapists
  • Nuclear medicine technologists
  • Medical radiation technologists
  • Medical radiation scientists (radiographers)
  • Dietitians
  • Social workers
  • Physiologists (sleep, renal, exercise and cardiac)
  • Perfusionists
  • Play therapists
  • Sterile processing technician
  • Orthotist prosthetist
  • Health promotion officer
  • Genetic counsellor
  • Drug and alcohol counsellor
  • Electrocardiogram technician
  • Cardiac technician
  • Clinical neurophysiologist

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