Josie is a 59-year-old migrant worker and registered nurse from the Philippines who has worked as a healthcare assistant at St Andrews Village in Auckland since April 2006 on a series of temporary ‘Essential Skills’ work visas. Josie wishes to stay permanently in New Zealand with her children, but in three years’ time, she most likely will have to return to the Philippines with little chance of returning.
Her temporary work visa expires in June 2018, and under the new immigration rules she is required to apply annually for the next three years for a renewal and then to leave New Zealand for at least 12 months before applying again for a work visa.
She is not eligible to apply for permanent residency in New Zealand under a skilled migrant category because she is now over 55 years old. She applied twice for permanent residency before she reached 55 only to be declined due to a “lack of skills”.
Josie is one of the aged care workers featured in a new report released by the Salvation Army and St Andrews Village in Auckland. The report, Finding a Better Balance, warns that the stringent immigration settings for migrant aged care workers will lead to a shortage of workers in the aged care sector.
Controversial new immigration laws announced in April this year introduced a one-year stand-down period for migrant workers after three years working in New Zealand, before they are allowed to apply for a new visa. The new immigration settings were announced within days of the pay equity settlement announcement and collectively the two changes have major repercussions for employers in the sector.
A later revision of the immigration policy did little to relieve providers. Despite changing some of the pay settings, the rules stipulate that any migrant classified by the skills classification system ANZSCO as being Level 4 or over is still subject to the stand-down period. The caregiver role is currently classified as ANZSCO Level 4.
The authors of the report anticipate that demand for aged care in residential facilities may rise by as much 40 per cent over the next 10 years, which will in turn increase the requirement for workers in the sector by as much as 45 per cent.
It states that aged care facility operators – and especially those in Auckland, continue to have trouble in attracting and retaining New Zealand residents as staff, even after the wage increase brought about by the pay equity settlement. Therefore the sector is heavily reliant on migrant aged care workers.
The report calls for Immigration New Zealand to immediately review the status of healthcare assistants under current immigration regulations.
Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway told NZME he is reviewing the changes to visa rules introduced by the last Government in the weeks before the election and wants to work with the aged care sector to make sure employers have the staff they need.
“Where there are genuine skill shortages we will ensure employers are able to fill those shortages with migrants if they wish to,” he said.
The second phase of the immigration policy change was supposed to include a review of the ANZSCO system, which could help address the problem. If caregivers were reclassified more accurately at Level 3, they would be exempt from the controversial stand-down period.
However, St Andrews Village Human Resources manager Lee Keegan says information received from MBIE suggests that while this review is scheduled to commence early next year, it is likely to be delayed as the Ministry addresses some of the broader issues with respect to skill level and resident options, and the new Immigration Minister “formulates his immigration policy priorities”.
Keegan says they will continue to lobby the new minister for an urgent solution in the hope of making the ANZSCO review one of these priorities, so that workers like Josie, can continue to work in the sector in which they are so desperately needed.