The Government has announced a major change in its immigration settings now allowing nurses, specialist doctors and midwives immediate residency.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Immigration Minister Michael Wood made the announcement at the final post-Cabinet press briefing of 2022.
The change comes after months of criticism about the fast-track residency policy that originally excluded nurses over a fear they would leave the country not long after arriving.
Those medical professionals are among 10 additional professions added to the Green List immigration category.
The Green List was established in July, which provided pathways to residency - either immediately or after two years - for 85 professions identified as most in need.
From the beginning, however, the list came under fire, particularly for excluding nurses from the pathway to immediate residency, instead requiring a two-year commitment.
It was also revealed many medical professions were excluded, despite major workforce shortages across the country.
Ardern said today the message to nurses everywhere is: “We are the best place to live, work and play.”
When asked about the delay in getting nurses on the list, Ardern said the battle for skills was only going to increase and New Zealand needed to “get in front of the competition”.
She wouldn’t agree the Government got the settings wrong before.
“We’ve been asked to make it simpler, so we have. We need to be as competitive as we can be.”
Ardern said the announcement will give more long-term clarity to skilled migrants, something that wasn’t the case in the past.
Along with changes to the Green List, all teachers are now included in the work-to-residence pathway, along with drain layers, motor mechanics and other roles.
There is also a new temporary residence pathway for bus and truck drivers through a new sector agreement to help employers attract workers.
The Government will also start reissuing visas for Post Study Work Visa holders locked out by Covid-19 and streamline a Specific Purpose work visa for long-term critical workers.
“Everywhere I go there is concern about skills shortages,” Ardern said.
”There is a rebalance here the world is going through. We need to make sure we are at the top of the list.”
The impact of population growth on inflation was tricky.
“We want to make sure supply meets demand...and be mindful about projections around growth,” Ardern said.
Wood said the measures would support businesses through the global labour shortage and attract more high-skilled workers long term.
“New Zealand’s strong economic position during a time of global downturn presents a unique opportunity to attract more high skilled migrant workers to our shores, as we prepare for a challenging year ahead.
“We understand that labour shortages are the biggest issue facing New Zealand businesses, and are contributing to cost of living pressures too.
“These measures are about addressing those shortages and providing greater certainty to businesses as they recover from the pandemic.”
On the Green List changes, Wood said they were focused on supporting those businesses and sectors feeling these shortages more acutely, like the healthcare workforce.
Wood said 3474 nurses had arrived in country since the pandemic began, but more eneded to be done 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.”
According to Wood, job checks are now processed within four days after being made.
He said as it would vary from sector to sector, the Government hasn’t set a target for the number of migrants the new settings hope to attract.
Since the borders reopened in July, Wood said the Government had approved over 94,000 job positions for international recruitment, granted over 40,000 working holiday visas, reopened the Pacific Access Category and Samoa Quota, delivered the largest increase in a decade to the RSE scheme, and resumed the Skilled Migrant Category and Parent Category.
The work-to-residence pathway will be further expanded to include all teachers and will add in additional roles such as drain layers, motor mechanics skilled civil machine operators from March.
All applicants will be able to count time on a work visa from September 29, 2021, towards their work-to-residence requirement.
“Our sector agreements are in place across the construction, seafood, aged care, meat processing, seasonal snow, and adventure tourism sectors.
“Today we have agreed to extend the scheme to bus and truck drivers with a time-limited, two-year residence pathway.
“The agreement will support our work underway to improve better wages and conditions for bus drivers and local workforce development.
“This will help relieve the national driver shortage, helping Kiwis and goods get to where they need to go.”
On the global war for talent, Wood said New Zealand is considered one of the best and safest places to live.
“We should make sure that we are paying people well and treating them well,” Wood added.
A suite of additional measures has also been confirmed today, including:
- Automatically extending employer accreditation by 12 months if their first accreditation is applied for by 4 July 2023.
- Introducing a streamlined Specific Purpose work visa to help keep the approximate 2,500 long-term critical workers already in the country to continue to work in their current role for up to three years.
- Providing a 12-month Open Work Visa for approximately 1800 previous holders of Post Study Work Visas who missed out because of the border closure in 2020-21 during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“By listening to the concerns of these sectors, and working with them to take practicable steps to unlock additional labour, we know these measures will help fill skills gaps, as businesses work towards more productive and resilient ways of operating,” Wood said.
“The Green List has been under constant review and will be next reviewed in mid-2023. We’ve said we have been prepared to make changes when the evidence supports the need to, and we will continue to monitor our settings to ensure they remain fit for purpose.
“Our immigration rebalance was designed to make it easier for employers to get the highly-skilled workers they need, , simplifying the settings and streamlining application processes for businesses, while reducing the previous reliance on lower-skilled migrant workers to help improve productivity, wages and working conditions for everyone.
“Overall, with the suite of measures announced today, alongside the likes of the Skilled Migrant Category and Accredited Employer Work Visa, I am confident Aotearoa New Zealand has the settings it needs to access skilled labour, support migrants and help us through the challenging year ahead.”
Asked about added pressure on infrastructure, Wood said the country needed immigration “to deal with” improving the required infrastructure.
Roles added to Green List straight to residence tier 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)
Roles added to Green List work to residence tier from March 2023:
- Civil construction supervisors
- Drain layers
- Skilled crane operators
- Skilled civil machine operators
- Halal slaughterers
- Skilled motor mechanics
- Skilled telecommunications technicians
- All secondary school teachers (in addition to the specialisations already on the Green List)
- Primary school teachers
PM responds to scathing report
Ardern also faced questions after a scathing report by the Ombudsman into the Government’s managed isolation and quarantine system.
After receiving and investigating hundreds of complaints, Chief Ombudsman Peter Boshier released his findings today, saying the impact of the allocation system on people was too severe.
“A fundamental human right was being limited and people’s lives were being significantly impacted.”
Asked if she would apologise to the people negatively affected by the MIQ system, Ardern said she had not yet read the report.
“We have already acknowledged the distress it caused ... but we only did these things in order to save lives,” Ardern said.
“It [the Ombudsman report] does not look unlike some of the court decisions that have already been made.”
While ministers were responsible for the final decisions, Boshier said the Ministry of Business, innovation and Employment was responsible for planning and operation and had failed to give appropriate advice.
He said those officials acted “unreasonably” and failed to take into account the “very real impact” the managed isolation allocation system had on people’s lives.
He said while he did not have powers to recommend Government ministers apologise, he would follow up with complainants to see if a “personal apology” from MBIE would be appropriate.
On the TVNZ-RNZ merger
Asked if she would consider scrapping the controversial TVNZ-RNZ merger, Ardern said while she wouldn’t rule anything in or out “the focus in 2023 needed to be on the economy”.
Ardern also said an announcement on the fuel excise subsidy will be made this week, despite the fact it runs through to the end of January.
Ardern is also likely to be asked about the latest measures taken against Iran over its violent crackdown over months of protests.
This morning the Government announced it had imposed travel bans on 22 Iranian security officials and the regime’s morality police in response to the death of Mahsa Amini and Iran’s violent response to the protests over it.
Ardern said the step targeted those connected to the death of Amini and the violent response to those protesting in Iran since then. She said New Zealand also stood with other countries calling for an investigation by an independent outside body, and calling for Iranian authorities to de-escalate their response and commute all death sentences.
The move follows widespread demonstrations in Iran and around the world over the death of 22-year-old Amini, a woman held by the country’s morality police for allegedly violating its strictly enforced dress code. Her death also sparked sharp condemnation from the United States, the European Union, and the United Nations.