13 Dec 2022

Recruiter downplays fears nurses will use residency to move to Australia

12:57 pm on 13 December 2022
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Nurses are being added to the Green List's straight to residency category. Photo:

The founder of a prominent healthcare recruitment company says fears nurses will use new immigration rules as a back door to Australia are overblown.

The government on Monday said from later this week, Immigration NZ's Green List of occupations that qualify migrants for immediate residency will include nurses, midwives and specialist doctors not already eligible.

The change comes after months of pressure from the opposition and the healthcare sector.

"I've consistently said we'd keep an open mind on this… so we've never been closed off to making changes in this area," Immigration Minister Michael Wood told Morning Report on Tuesday.

At present, nurses - and those working in a range of other occupations - have to work here for two years before they can apply for residency. That will change from Thursday for registered nurses and midwives, specialist doctors not already on the Green List, and auditors.

"The government didn't recognise nurses, midwives and specialist positions to be on a priority Green List," Accent Health Recruitment founder Prudence Thomson told Morning Report on Tuesday.

"They couldn't buy a house, their children - if they were over 18 - had to pay offshore or overseas education fees, they couldn't settle and make New Zealand a home for at least two years."

Keeping nurses in New Zealand

With better pay and conditions on offer across the Tasman, there were reportedly concerns nurses might quickly move to Australia once getting residency in New Zealand.

"That traditionally has happened, but in the last 25 years of recruiting I haven't seen it be a big issue," Thomson said. "I understand six percent of nurses, once they get residency, leave New Zealand. Six percent's not bad."

Under the present two-year work to residence visa rules, migrants are required to work for accredited employers in roles on the Green List or earn twice the median wage. Once a person has residency, they're no longer bound by those rules - so aren't required to stay in nursing, for example, or even in the country.

Asked why that was no longer a concern for the nursing sector, Wood said the "international competition and the international shortage of nurses has become more and more acute over recent months".

"By definition if we give people immediate access to residency - this is in any occupation, not just nurses - they do then have the ability to work in other areas. That is a fact, when someone gets residency.

"But… when we take everything into account - the acute global shortage, the fact that we need to be geared up to deal with winter in 2023, which could be challenging again - on the balance, we think this the right move to make."

'The process does take a long time'

He defended the time it took to make the call. National Party immigration spokesperson Erica Stanford on Monday said leaving nurses off the straight to residence part of the Green List was "nothing short of madness".

"National called for nurses to be given a fast track to residence back in September 2021 and called for midwives and teachers to also be added in May this year."

Wood said it hadn't taken that long, with the borders only fully reopening in July and the Green List provisions kicking in from September.

"We have been seeing good progress - we've had over 2800 nurses arrive in New Zealand under the critical purposes visa, so we have continued to have nurses arriving under our policy."

Thousands more want to - Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern saying on Monday there were more than 4500 applications with the Nursing Council.

Thomson said New Zealand would not be able to let all of them in right away, no matter how acute the shortage.

"The process is quite drawn-out. They have to have an external verification with [an] offshore company.

"The process does take a long time… We do need to do our due diligence, we need to check these nurses are legit. We need to know that they are good nurses and they've got the comparable experience to work here.

"We don't want to rush the process, but it would be better to have more people doing the nurses' registration processing to get them here more quickly."

Many would likely be from countries where English isn't a first language, Thomson added. Others would have applied for registration, but have been waiting for Immigration to ease the rules.

One of Wellington's electric buses

Cabinet has agreed to develop a sector agreement to support the bus and truck driver workforce. Photo: Greater Wellington Regional Council

Delays continue for buses

From March next year, a range of other occupations will be added to the work to residence Green List, including teachers, crane operators, gasfitters, drain layers and halal slaughterers. But despite ongoing disruptions to public transport in our major cities, bus drivers still aren't on the list.

Cabinet has agreed to develop a sector agreement to support the bus and truck driver workforce, however.

"Bus operators will have a much easier ability to identify and bring drivers into the country without the same sort of paperwork that they're having to go through at the moment," Greater Wellington Regional Council chair Daran Ponter told Morning Report.

"So it should be a lot easier, but a sector-wide agreement has to be negotiated first and it's a little bit unclear just at the moment what that means. But what it does mean is a little bit more time before this is locked into place."

He expects it to be finalised in the first quarter of 2023. While Ponter said it would be nice to get more drivers from the existing labour pool, any help in the short-term was welcome.

"We're struggling here in Wellington and if we've got it bad, Auckland's got it even worse… every time a driver doesn't turn up to work, that could be as many as six to 10 bus cancellations… it only takes 10, 20 drivers not to be in the system and you can see how very quickly the number of cancellations can mount up."

Not too many cooks

Meanwhile, the hospitality sector is wondering why it was left out of the latest immigration overhaul. Outlets have reported being understaffed, and some have even had to close their doors due to the labour shortage.

Wood said changes had already been made to make it easier for chefs to work in New Zealand and "we're actually beginning to see reasonably good numbers come through".

"We've now received over 600 applications for chefs to come into New Zealand under the accredited employer work visa scheme; I think we've had about 300 of those accepted now. About 1500 cook applications have been received, so we're beginning to see the system work."

Hospitality NZ chief executive Julie White told Morning Report hospitality was one of the hardest-hit sectors during Covid, and chefs and other kitchen staff remain in short supply. She said just because they've applied to come to New Zealand, doesn't mean they'll necessarily arrive - with other countries welcoming them with "wide open arms".

"When we're asking these applicants why they're no longer coming, they said that it's easier and there's more certainty in other countries… We are competing against Australia, who offer a pathway to residency and some certainty, even before they enter the country.

"It's a global war [for] talent, the government have acknowledged that. We need our policy settings to compete globally."

Asked why chefs weren't also being placed on the straight to residency list, Wood said the government couldn't "just put everyone on the Green List and give everyone a fast-track to residency".

"New Zealand residency is quite a special thing; it's something we do need to reserve where we've got particular pressures in the system."

The next review of which occupations are on the list will come in mid-2023, he said.