An article recently appeared in the New Zealand Herald titled ,“Immigration Minister declines to intervene in Kaitaia caregiver case”. The article features an aged-care worker located in Kaitaia, “Juliet”, originally from the Philippines, who had exhausted all remaining options for staying in New Zealand and has been told by Immigration New Zealand that she must leave New Zealand.

The article describes the following about Juliet;

  • She spent 11 years trying to secure Residence, which had been unsuccessful;
  • Juliet had made Kaitaia her home and contributes to the community;
  • Juliet was filling a role as an aged-care worker, providing rest home, hospital and dementia-level care in a poor rural town which had struggled to find staff locally to fill the role;
  • Juliet passed her English language test;
  • Juliet completed new Medicals as part of the Visa application process, every three years at a cost of $500 each time;
  • Visa applications over the past 11 years had cost Juliet $7150 and stress and anxiety;
  • Advertising to find someone suitable to fill the role locally had resulted in 362 viewings but only 1 application, which was not suitable, lacking required attitude, qualifications, skills, knowledge or experience;
  • Juliet held a relevant Level 3 qualification and with the support of the aged-care home she worked at, had obtained a Level 4 qualification;

The New Zealand Herald article reports that Juliet could not apply for a further Work Visa or a Residence Visa and so was needing to leave New Zealand. The article reports that Associate Immigration Minister, Kris Faafoi, declined to intervene to allow Juliet to stay in New Zealand.

The writer was at an NZAMI conference in Auckland last week, where the Minster of Immigration gave a speech. The Minister mentioned the aged-care sector. The challenges facing these workers in terms of current immigration instructions and ability to be granted Visas appears to relate to the unskilled classification of these roles. Where the salary paid is less than $36.44 per hour, an aged-care worker can only be granted Work Visas for 1 year at a time, for a maximum of 3 years, before a 1 year stand down period applies. A migrant aged-care worker will not be able to secure Residence under the Skilled Migrant category either due to the unskilled classification of the role, unless the salary paid is more than $36.44 per hour. It is unlikely an aged-care worker would be paid more than $36.44 per hour. The current policy settings are therefore quite restrictive and challenging, for a migrant aged-care worker to remain in New Zealand on a Work Visa for very long or achieve Residence.

Aged-care work is not glamorous, but requires a high level of tolerance and patience for vulnerable people. In declining to intervene in Juliet’s case, perhaps the Minister was thinking that a New Zealand citizen or resident should be able to fill the role. But this does not seem to take into account the difficulty the employer describes in the article of finding such New Zealand citizen or resident. One view might be that Juliet is the type of migrant that Ministerial intervention was intended to provide a solution for. It is not uncommon for this writer to come across situations where a migrant who represents a  benefit to New Zealand, or has a justified case for remaining in New Zealand, is unable to do so. Where they do not meet the requirements of policy, a request to the office of the Minister of Immigration can represent a safety net. The outcome where Juliet can no longer stay in New Zealand, in the circumstances identified, may seem odd.

The current unskilled classification of aged-care workers does not, remove the difficulty that the aged care sector faces in recruiting suitable workers. Perhaps a solution would be to reclassify it so that it is a skilled occupation. Assuming all other features of immigration instructions remained the same, this would reduce that salary that needs to be paid to between $20.65 and $36.44 for the grant of a 3 year Work Visa and at least $24.29 for the grant of Residence under the Skilled Migrant Category. The occupation could also be placed on the long term skill shortage list for example, which would remove the requirement for an employer to show that there are no New Zealand citizens or residents available when an applicant applies for an Essential Skills Work Visa. There are other occupations, for which their current unskilled classification also appears to be creating a problem, consider also for example the shortage of truck drivers, see for an article mentioning this, here.

However, it is true that there may be flow on consequences, of allowing a large number of migrants to fill roles previously classified as unskilled. Ultimately these workers need to be housed, fed and if Residence is granted, will have access to public healthcare and education services. We might want to be selective about the people these rights are granted to.

It is difficult for rules such as those found in immigration policy to get every situation right, but by way of Ministerial intervention maybe there could have been a way to better accommodate the specific circumstances presented by Juliet, which on the face of it as presented in the New Zealand Herald article, seems deserving.

See the article featuring Juliet on the New Zealand Herald website, here https://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=12098314 .