Immigration policy changes threaten care of older New Zealanders

Care of older New Zealanders could be compromised under proposed changes to Essential Skills visa settings. The changes do not reflect the short-term employment needs of the aged residential care sector. We are not alone, however, as critical sectors of the economy, like dairy, construction and tourism will also be impacted.

We face critical shortages in New Zealand’s caregiver workforce which will escalate in the next decade as the need for care rises sharply with our rapidly ageing population. Migrant workers are essential to ensuring we can deliver continuous quality care to all older New Zealanders living in aged residential care facilities. Currently approximately a third of the caregiver workforce is on some form of work or residence visa.   The changes will seriously affect valuable labour force, disrupting continuity of care, creating higher churn and cost for employers and hindering training and upskilling.

NZACA members put significant efforts and rigorous process into recruiting the best caregivers, and always with a preference for New Zealanders. But they struggle to recruit Kiwis as caregivers as they are generally not attracted to the work and for those who do apply, many are unable to take it on for a range of reasons from inadequate literacy levels to failing police checks and drug tests.  One recent example included a referral from Work and Income who had a criminal conviction for stealing from an elderly person.  

Once employers have exhausted the New Zealand workforce pool, they must look to migrant workers to provide the care required; they have no other option. The recently announced pay equity settlement will make a difference in lifting wages within the sector, and may attract more Kiwis but immigration will still be essential in addressing gaps.

Now with the proposed changes, setting a maximum three years’ duration for Essential Skills visa holders, these workers will be sent back to their country for a stand-down period. This will disrupt continuity of care, causing undue stress for vulnerable older people who need the stability and security of trusted relationships with their caregivers and creating additional recruitment costs for employers. NZACA is very keen to work with Government on all the options to ensure there is less of an impact on our older New Zealanders in care and on the sector.

Regardless of the proposed changes, there should be a recognised pathway for the aged care sector to enable operators to maintain quality care for older people by recruiting, training and retaining the best possible caregivers and allowing them to transition to permanent residency.