12 Dec 2022

Nurses eligible for immediate residency under immigration changes

4:53 pm on 12 December 2022
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Minister Michael Wood

Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

Nurses, midwives and any specialist doctors not already eligible will be added to the straight-to-residence pathway among a range of new immigration settings announced by Immigration Minister Michael Wood.

They will be able to enter the country under the new setting from this Thursday, 15 December.

A Specific Purpose work visa will also be added to help keep about 2500 critical workers in the country for up to three years, and a 12-month Open Work Visa for the roughly 1800 people who had been on Post Study Work Visas but missed out when the border closed.

Teachers, drainlayers, mechanics and other roles are also being added to the Green List, while bus and truck drivers will be eligible for a new temporary residence pathway.

Employer accreditation is also being extended by a year for those whose first accreditation is for before 4 July next year. This effectively means employers will be accredited for two years from the start instead of having a one-off one-year accreditation.

Wood said accreditation requirements would also not be extended to all other employers, as had previously been proposed.

He announced the moves this afternoon alongside Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern following Monday's Cabinet meeting.

A total 10 roles were being added to the Green List, he said.

"As part of our signalled review, we are expanding the Green List settings to include more professions in our healthcare, education and construction sectors, to give a competitive edge in a highly competitive global environment," he said.

"Since the pandemic 3474 nurses have arrived in country, but it's clear we need to do more to encourage nurses to choose New Zealand. Adding these roles will further build on the attractiveness of New Zealand to those looking to set themselves and their families up long term."

Health worker changes months after system brought in

The government has faced heavy criticism for not including nurses on the straight-to-residence pathway since] it announced its immigration reset in May.

Wood committed in July to monitor the settings for nurses.

Ardern quoted the World Health Organisation's estimate the globe was likely to be short by 10 million health workers by 2030, and said New Zealand already had one of the easiest pathways for nurses to live and work.

"But in a crowded market let's make the message even simpler. Our message to nurses everywhere: we are the best place to live, work and play, you will be able to seek immediate residence.

"With wages growing faster than inflation and with the ninth-lowest inflation out of 38 OECD countries, we have much to offer."

Record numbers of nurses had been applying to work in New Zealand but the government had been asked to simplify things, she said.

"We were attracting nurses, we want to get ahead of the issue though."

The perception overall that the immigration settings were to blame for the labour shortage was not the whole story, Ardern said.

"That means having decent wages, decent conditions, and a great place to live and work. New Zealand has that, this is about marketing ourselves successfully, not just about immigration settings.

"I think it would be wrong to say it's simply about the rules, there's a number of roles all ready to be filled."

Wood said it was a significant simplification compared to the pre-pandemic settings, which only a small subset of nurses would have been eligible for residency under.

He said the whole world was experiencing labour shortages, and the government had already approved more than 94,000 roles for international recruitment and 40,000 working holiday visas, as well as the largest increase to the RSE scheme in a decade.

However, a shortage of employees was still the biggest problem businesses were grappling with and the measures announced today would help, he said.

"While some commentators are suggesting that our labour market is starting to lose some of its heat, we are continuing to pull out all the stops to position ourselves ahead of the pack," he said.

"We are supporting those businesses and sectors feeling these shortages more acutely, like our healthcare workforce, with a mind to preparing for the year ahead."

Changes for other sectors

The deal for bus and truck drivers comes after Cabinet today agreed in principle they would be able to access a time-limited two-year residence.

It would be set up through a sector agreement which is still being developed by officials in consultation with the transport sector.

"The agreement will support our work under way to improve better wages and conditions for bus drivers and local workforce development," Wood said.

"This will help relieve the national driver shortage, helping Kiwis and goods get to where they need to go."

The sector agreement is similar to those in place for other industries including construction, seafood, aged care, meat processing, seasonal snow, and adventure tourism.

The Specific Purpose visa would be for long-term workers who played an important role during the Covid-19 pandemic but were ineligible for the 2021 Resident Visa.

It would allow them to continue in their current role for up to three years.

The Open Work Visa would available to people who had a Post Study Work Visa but were unable to use it after the border closed. These people would be able to enter and work in New Zealand for up to a year if not already on another visa.

Wood said the Green List "has been under constant review" and would be next reviewed in the middle of next year.

He could not say how many people would be expected to come into New Zealand on the new settings, saying the system was geared towards identifying whether there was a need for more labour.

He said the rebalance was about turning away from "what was a pretty unregulated system previously".

Green list changes

Added to Green List straight-to-residence path:

  • Registered nurses (on 15 December 2022)
  • Midwives (on 15 December 2022)
  • Specialist doctors not already on the Green List (on 15 December 2022)
  • Registered Auditors (from March 2023)

Added to Green List work-to-residence path from March:

  • Civil construction supervisors
  • Gasfitters
  • Drain layers
  • Skilled crane operators
  • Skilled civil machine operators
  • Halal slaughterers
  • Skilled motor mechanics
  • Skilled telecommunications technicians
  • All secondary school teachers (some specialisations already on the Green List)
  • Primary school teachers

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