Visas for aged care nurses from overseas increase

7 July 2014

Visas issued to migrant nurses coming to work in the aged care sector increased by nearly 25 per cent last year – despite advertised jobs decreasing by 22 per cent.

The aged care sector has very high numbers of migrant workers, which includes overseas-trained registered nurses working as caregivers while seeking New Zealand registration. Four nursing occupation categories, including experienced aged care registered nurses, currently on the “essential skills in demand” (ESID) migrant list are now being reviewed as to whether there are sufficient shortages for them to stay on the list – particularly in the wake of media reports of new graduate nurses struggling to find work.

Marilyn Head, a policy analyst for the New Zealand Nurses Organisation (NZNO), said NZNO had called for a number of years for aged care nurses to be removed from the ESID list.

“… there can be no justification whatsoever for maintaining preferred entry to employment in settings where shortages are due to inferior employment conditions,” said Head in NZNO’s submission to Immigration New Zealand.

The Immigration New Zealand preliminary report says the review of aged care registered nurses was in response to the call by NZNO and media coverage of nursing graduates struggling to find jobs.

In the 12 months up to 31 May 2013, there were 354 essential skills work visas and 433 skilled migrant resident visas approved for aged care nurses. A year later, that number had increased 24 per cent to 438 essential skill visas and 555 skilled migrant resident visas – which is nearly 1000 nurses.

This compares to the other nursing categories where visa numbers all went down with only 116 essential skills visas issued for medical nurses, 36 for critical care and emergency nurses, and 29 for perioperative nurses.

NZNO in its call to remove preferred entry for aged care nurses said some shortages were “strongly linked” to inappropriate staffing levels, heavy workloads, and disparities in wages and conditions.

“There is strong evidence of this in aged care and since the sector (which receives $800m public funding) is heavily and disproportionately staffed by migrant workers, immigration policy cannot be discounted as a significant factor in maintaining this inequity.”

The Immigration New Zealand report said national data on job seekers indicated there were 153 suitable jobseekers available for aged care nursing positions in late May 2014, and the number of online advertisements for aged care nurses had deceased by 22.3 per cent in the year to April 2014 compared to the previous year.

Immigration New Zealand’s preliminary view, which it is currently seeking feedback on, is that aged care nurses did not appear to be in shortage and they should be removed from the ESID list.

It says further information and evidence is sought – especially on terms and conditions of employment.

One indicator for being placed on the essential skills list is that the occupation has a base salary of at least $45,000. Census information from 2013 indicated that the average annual base salary for aged care RNs was $40,900. The other three categories all had average annual base salaries of more than $50,000.

Submissions close on 25 July 2014, and more information is available at