Lack of jobs prompts call to close doors to overseas nurses

8 July 2014

Concern about new nurses struggling to find work has prompted a review on whether New Zealand’s doors should still be wide open for overseas nurses.

The Immigration New Zealand review follows the New Zealand Nurses Organisation (NZNO) calling for the first time for nursing to be dropped from the Essential Skills in Demand (ESID) migrant list.

Marilyn Head, an NZNO policy analyst, said the call was made with “huge reluctance” but repeated calls for an integrated and sustainable nursing workforce planning strategy had gone unheard.

She said she found district health boards and other employers still seeking to recruit overseas “kind of hard to stomach when you’ve got (several hundred) unemployed new graduate nurses.”

“It’s not that we don’t think that there’s a shortage of skilled, experienced nurses in particular areas and in particular locations,” said Head.

“But we think that it’s more of a lack of jobs … there’s just not enough nursing positions.”

She also noted that skill shortages were partly due to delayed recruitment and replacement of staff for a variety or reasons, including budgetary restraints.

Immigration New Zealand said the NZNO request and media coverage of unemployed new graduate nurses led to it announcing on 4 July that it was reviewing whether four registered nurse (RN) categories should be removed from the current Long-Term Skill Shortage list.

The four categories are RN (aged care), RN (critical care and emergency), RN (medical), and RN (perioperative). A fifth nursing category RN (mental health) was reviewed last year and remains on the Immediate Skills Shortage list. All categories require three years experience in the field of expertise.

The vast majority of essential skill visas were issued for aged care nurses (see “Visas for aged care nurses from overseas increase”), which when combined with aged care nurses, granted skilled migrant resident visas was a total of nearly 1000 nurses. The number of essential skills visas issued for the other categories had all declined and ranged from 116 for medical nurses down to 29 for perioperative nurses.

Immigration New Zealand’s initial preliminary view on the four nursing category workforces was that there was only weak evidence of skill shortages and that in the case (of all but aged care) that there may be sufficient graduates coming through to fill entry positions.

Head said NZNO had supported nursing being on ESID lists in the past because of recognised skill gaps in some specialty areas, the growing demand for health care, an expected upsurge in retirements, and the need to increase the nursing workforce to meet projected demand.

But she said the lack of long-term workforce planning has resulted in recruiting overseas as being “the default approach” to nursing shortages with “predictable and serious” consequences.

“The most obvious is the impact on New Zealand-trained graduates.”

She hoped that the review would highlight the need for coherent and integrated health workforce planning involving tertiary education, immigration, health providers, and professional organisations led by the Ministry of Health.

Head said there were tertiary institutions promoting and running programmes targeted at overseas-trained, experienced nurses who competed with new graduates for local nursing positions.

Submissions on whether some or all of the four nursing categories should be removed from the essential skills list close on 25 July 2014, and more information is available at