Rest homes say nurses should be on fast-tracked residency list

Aged Care providers are joining the chorus of disapproval of a government decision to leave nurses off the new fast-tracked pathway to residency.

A green list was published on Wednesday, aimed at giving high-skilled migrants in hard-to-fill jobs a quicker pathway to residency when the borders fully reopen.

While occupations like GPs and engineers are on the fast-tracked 'Straight to Residence' pathway and will be able to apply for residency from September this year, nurses are among those on a second list which means they will have to be here for two years before they can do the same.

When defending the decision Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi said the aged care sector was concerned migrant nurses may leave for higher paid jobs when they get residency.

"One of the issues that we had when we were engaging earlier with the likes of employers who want nurses, one of the big issues was retention. One of the strong pieces of feedback that we had, especially from the likes of the aged care sector, is when they [nurses] come we want to make sure that they stay in the system and actually do the role of nursing for a period of time," he said.

But three aged care providers RNZ has spoken to say the decision to leave nurses off the fast-tracked pathway does not represent their interests and is not what they asked for. It is not clear where feedback that said otherwise came from.

Nicola Turner is a general manager at Enliven, which runs 14 rest homes as well as hospital units. Without enough nurses, they are struggling to staff all of their facilities and in some cases have had to move elderly elsewhere on in some cases have had to move elderly elsewhere and she said it was getting worse every week.

Turner wants the government to put nurses on the fast-tracked occupation list.

"Anything that New Zealand can offer that that makes us more appealing is really important because we can't offer the wages that some other countries like Australia and Canada can offer. So being able to offer a fast track to residency is one thing that definitely would be quite beneficial to us," she said.

Turner also said, in her experience, migrant nurses do not generally leave their jobs in aged care once they are granted residency.

"We've had some nurses that have been working for us for 10 or 15 years, and have had residence for quite a long time. And certainly, the ones that leave Enliven leave to go to the DHBs or into another nursing job. So they're not leaving nursing as far as we're aware," she said.

Radius Care executive chairman Brien Cree did not want overseas nurses facing a two-year wait to apply for residence and believed the move went against the advice they provided.

"We provided feedback that we needed nurses on the ground now, and to have them put on the secondary list, I think is going against the feedback that was received from the sector," Cree said.

Andrew Mitchell is a director at Promisia, which owns four aged care facilities. He agreed excluding nurses from the fast-track scheme was at odds with what the industry wanted. Mitchell wants the decision reversed.

"I don't think it's backed by the industry at all. They might have two or three people they say are backing them but it's not reflective of the industry at all," he said.

Providers RNZ spoke to said when nurses do resign it was often to work for DHBs, which could pay more.

Nurses Society director David Willis admits overseas nurses can use aged care as a foot in the door to Aotearoa's healthcare sector.

"They sometimes use that as an opportunity to transition to other parts of the health service. Aged care has been heavily dependent on foreign-trained nurses. They pay low and clearly many nurses want to move, for personal and financial reasons, into DHB paid employment," Willis said.

He raised concerns about the impact of potential lobbying from the aged care sector over the decision and said "it's our understanding that's part of the rationale behind the move," but he could not go into further detail.

The Aged Care Association declined RNZ's request for an interview and a statement.

Health Minister Andrew Little said he was not aware of any engagement with any sector.

Rosie Gordon, Wellington reporter. Radio New Zealand, RNZ
May 13, 2022

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