NZ tightens migration criteria for some overseas nurses

18 December 2014

A review to consider closing New Zealand doors to overseas nurses  – because of homegrown new graduates struggling to find work  – has come out against taking that step.

But Immigration New Zealand has decided to tighten the requirements so registered nurses seeking "essential skill" visas under the critical care & emergency, medical or perioperative categories will have to have five years relevant experience rather than the current three years.

The review decision, released yesterday, said this tightening of entry criteria was "to ensure migrants are not competing with New Zealand nurse graduates for entry level positions". The changes come into effect in March 2015.

However no changes have been made to the registered nurse (aged care) category, which is the visa category the vast majority of overseas nurses enter New Zealand under.  Immigration New Zealand's preliminary view back in July, when review submissions were called for, was that aged care nurses did not appear to be in shortage and they should be removed from the ESID list 

Nearly 1000 visas were issued to aged care nurses (438 on essential skill visas and 555 skilled migrant visas) in the 12 months to May 31 2014. Visas issued for the other three categories ranged from 29 for perioperative nurses to 116 for medical nurses.

The review of the nursing visa categories followed the New Zealand Nurses Organisation calling for the first time for hospital nursing categories to be dropped from the Essential Skills in Demand (ESID) migrant list.  At the time Marilyn Head, an NZNO policy analyst, said the call was made with “huge reluctance” but repeated calls for sustainable workforce planning had gone unheard and employers recruiting overseas when there were unemployed new grads was "hard to stomach".

NZNO has been calling for a number of years for aged care nursing to taken off the ESID list because it says difficulties recruiting nurses in the aged care sector are due to inferior employment conditions  - including wage disparities and inappropriate RN staffing levels – and not shortages.

Immigration New Zealand said in its review decision that the Ministry of Health had advised them that was currently a shortage of RNs in aged care.

"And the shortage is forecast to become more acute in future years, given the retirements that will occur from the aging of the current workforce, limits on the supply of domestically educated nurses, predicted growth in the needs of an aging population, and international competition for workers," says the ESID review decision.

It acknowledged there were unemployed graduate nurses but said the Ministry had also advised them that graduates were not attracted by the specialty or the locations where the jobs were available.

Immigration New Zealand also decided to increase the years of experience required for the three hospital sector categories from three to five years on the advice of the Ministry.

"This will ensure that employers cannot use the LTSSL to recruit migrants in preference to employing new or recent New Zealand graduates for entry level positions, but retaining the ability to recruit offshore for appropriately experienced nurses where no suitable New Zealanders are available."