16 Nov 2022

Health sector immigration: Ministers play down chance of quick changes

6:34 pm on 16 November 2022
Labour MP Michael Wood

Immigration Minister Michael Wood says some changes to the green list might be made before the review in May, but he needs to get advice on it first. Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

Government ministers are dampening expectations of quick immigration changes for health workers - despite mounting pressure and advice from the health ministry last week.

The ACT Party this morning publicised leaked ministry advice that urged minister Andrew Little to immediately work to put 30 health jobs on the immigration green list.

The green list is a collection of in-demand jobs the government has made eligible for a fast-track to permanent residence and includes two tiers: a straight-to-residence pathway which grants residence immediately, and a work-to-residence pathway which grants it after two years on the job.

Health systems have been under heavy pressure of late and the advice, dated 9 November, said delivery of health services would be at risk unless the roles including paramedics and dentists were added to the list before its next review in May.

It also said Immigration Minister Michael Wood had not consulted the Ministry of Health , Te Whatu Ora (Health NZ) or Te Aka Whai Ora (the Māori Health Authority) about further plans for additions to the list.

Accent Health Recruitment managing director Prudence Thomson said the list needed to be amended immediately to encourage overseas health workers to come to New Zealand.

"The government has been too slow to act, they haven't addressed the problem quickly enough and they've been aware of it for quite some time.

"It would be quite simple - I mean, they said they put together this green list very quickly so if they can put it together quickly they can change it quickly."

Little this afternoon said he believed everything that could be done, was being done.

"I made my representations to Cabinet - and indeed to Michael Wood - as we went through the consultation phase, and I continue to do everything I can to support particularly Te Whatu Ora as the biggest employer of health workers to get the best they can to fill the vacancies they've got.

Labour MP Andrew Little

Health Minister Andrew Little Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

"Cabinet made those decisions. Part of the Cabinet decisions was we keep that under review and Michael Wood and I have kept that under review."

He said they wanted the best for the sector, and were seeing record registrations of nurses from overseas qualified nurses.

Concerns about other health roles he put down to confusion by Immigration NZ about the number of professions covered by the term "specialist physician".

"I think Immigration haven't understood some of the terms on the list that it is at the moment, so 'specialist physician' covers a whole range of specialist positions and I think they now understand what that means."

It seems unlikely however that many of the roles the health ministry urged him to add - such as pharmacist; or enrolled nurse, a position which reports to a registered nurse - would be included under that heading.

As Little pointed out however, Cabinet and the immigration minister would be making any final calls over the green list.

Wood said it was his understanding consultation had been done with the health sector when decisions were initially made about the green list.

He suggested it was unlikely the review of the green list would be brought forward from its May 2023 date, but hinted some changes might be made before then.

"I don't intend to bring that forward but I have said on a number of occasions that I am open to looking at whether changes should be made in advance of that.

"I've consistently said that we'll look at what's in front of us, we'll look at what we're hearing from different sectors and we'll be open to making changes. No commitments at this point, I need to receive advice on these matters."

He acknowledged there was a "real challenge" for health, but it had to be weighed up against the demands of other sectors.

"My job is not just to take that at face value, my job is to make sure I get good advice and have consistent and fair settings across all different groups so I'll take some advice on that," he said.

"What we also know is that we have got settings in place which are beginning to work and are beginning to support health employers to get the people that they need here."

"We keep our eye on the policies, we try to get them right. I'm not ruling anything out at this stage but we'll do it in a managed way."

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