Aged care providers are relieved to hear the Government’s plans to ease many of the stringent immigration settings which currently make it difficult to employ migrant workers who make up a large chunk of New Zealand’s aged care workforce.

At a Rotorua rest home today, Minister of Immigration Iain Lees-Galloway announced changes to the employer-assisted temporary work visa system including the introduction of a new employer-led visa framework that will drive the application process.

The Minister also announced the introduction of sector agreements to ensure better planning for future workforce needs.

“Sector agreements will be targeted at sectors with high reliance on temporary foreign workers and will enable specific terms and conditions for recruiting foreign workers to be negotiated between the government and individual sectors,” says Lees-Galloway.

One of the first sectors in line for an agreement is aged care, a sector that has lobbied hard for change.

The New Zealand Aged Care Association (NZACA) says the changes are a strong acknowledgement of the significant supply issues faced by not only the aged care industry, but also others that rely on migrant labour to fill the gaps in the local labour supply.

“In aged care, migrant workers make an incredible and increasingly vital contribution to the health and well-being of New Zealand’s older and more vulnerable citizens who live in the country’s 669 rest homes,” says NZACA chief executive Simon Wallace. “We have lobbied hard for policies that help aged care providers recruit and retain this valued workforce and provide the all-important continuity of care for residents.”

Among the changes announced today was the replacement of the outdated Australia and New Zealand Standard Classification of Occupations system (ANZSCO) with a remuneration threshold of $25 per hour, aligned to the median wage.

This is significant for the aged care sector as the ANZSCO system was a determinant for whether migrant workers would be subject to immigration laws that forced migrant workers who had been working in New Zealand for three years to return to their home countries for a one-year stand-down period before they were allowed to apply for a new visa.

Under the ANZSCO system, caregivers are listed as level 4, which means they are subject to the stand-down period. Although the sector pushed hard for a change to a level 3 categorisation – which would exempt many caregivers on migrant work visas from the stand-down period – making changes to ANZSCO proved to be difficult as the system is co-owned by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) which is reluctant to make changes.

“We have lobbied long and hard for this welcome change,” says Wallace, of the decision to replace ANZSCO. “Not only will it provide greater certainty but will incentivise employers to invest in upskilling and training staff to higher levels.”

Wallace says while the sector applauds the shift away from ANZSCO, the system still leaves lower income threshold workers subject to the stand-down.

“Effectively this means New Zealand is still serving as a training ground for the world for these workers, investing in upskilling workers who are sent home after three years for a one-year stand-down and most likely taking their new skills to other countries.”

Wallace sees the negotiation of the sector agreement as a chance to demonstrate the value in investing in these lower income workers.

The reforms will also see a greater focus on addressing regional skills shortages.

“A regional approach to the labour market test will ensure that foreign workers are able to be recruited for genuine skill shortages in regions with lower numbers of New Zealanders available for work, while ensuring that the labour market is tested regularly in areas with higher availability of New Zealanders,” says Lees-Galloway.

While welcoming this change, Wallace notes that there are still aged care workforce shortages in the bigger cities.

“This is another area we will be looking to discuss with government as part of the sector agreement process.”

The changes will also see reinstated the ability for lower-paid workers to bring their families to New Zealand, a decision Wallace has described as “kind” for acknowledging the important role partners and families play in the employment of the primary visa holder.

“The increase in threshold for the work to residence visa category is not so welcome, but at least the Government has grand-parented those migrants already on this pathway.”

Minister Lees-Galloway says the changes collectively signal a significant shift in the way the temporary work visa system operates.

“It will make the process of hiring a foreign worker easier and more straightforward. It will also provide more certainty for employers due to upfront checks, while also increasing expectations on employers to train and employ more New Zealanders.”

More information on the changes can be found at www.immigration.govt.nz/work-visa-changes.

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