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.
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.
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.
“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.