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The government has announced 32 new health sector roles are to be added to the Straight to Residence pathway of the Green List to help prepare the health system for the coming winter.
Prime Minister Chris Hipkins made the announcement at his regular post-Cabinet press conference at the Beehive Theatrette this afternoon.
Forty health sector roles are being added to the pathway – eight of those were already on the Green List, but would have had to work for two years to attain residence in New Zealand, while the remaining 32 are newly added.
Speaking at a post-Cabinet meeting this afternoon, Prime Minister Chris Hipkins said, despite progress in recruiting health workers and in lifting incomes for health workers including through pay equity changes, more work needed to be done to attract workers from overseas.
“It is vital that New Zealand’s immigration settings are not seen as an unnecessary barrier to workers wanting to make a life here in New Zealand.”
He said the changes announced today reflected the feedback from the health sector.
Hipkins said since the decision in December to put midwives and registered nurses on the straight-to-residence pathway, the goverment had received some 3600 health sector applications including 1400 nurses, 200 doctors and other specialists and 95 GPs.
“In the same period, we’ve seen nearly 3000 health professionals arriving in the country.
“We know that moving countries is one of the biggest decisions anyone can make in their lives and in the lives of their families. With these changes, the aim is to provide additional certainty when they’re making these decisions that they’ll be able to create a permanent home and a great life here in New Zealand.”
He said the Green List changes would start to apply from 29 May, about seven weeks away.
Boat skippers and deck hands are also being added to a time-limited residence pathway in the transport sector, adding to international bus and truck drivers.
“Our seaside cities’ ferries form an essential part of the public transport system so it’s critical that ferry service operators have access to the workers to enhance the availability of these workers,” Hipkins said.
He said the market rate for skippers was already above the median wage, and deck hands would need to be paid at least the median wage. This will start from late May.
Health Minister Ayesha Verrall told Checkpoint this was an important and proactive step as part of the immigration rebalance.
The closure of the borders during the pandemic meant that access to overseas health workers had been limited and the workforce itself was impacted by Covid-19, with about 100,000 health care workers around the world dying from it, Verrall said.
“We do have to re-evaluate what we’re doing to attract health care workers and I think we’re now in a very competitive place.”
“Some of these shortages are very acute” – Health Minister Ayesha Verrall (4 min 47 sec)
Asked why action had not been taken sooner to address shortages that had been brewing prior to the pandemic, she said this was commissioned as phased work, which started with the nurses, midwives and doctors being put on the Green List.
“Yes, some of these shortages predated Covid but Covid has certainly made them a whole lot worse, including because of the impact of the pandemic on healthcare workers themselves.”
The Green List was originally announced in May last year, with 85 hard-to-fill high-skill roles that provides a priority pathway to residency.
Added to Green List, straight-to-residence:
- Addiction practitioner/alcohol & drug clinician
- Clinical dental technician
- Clinical physiologists (sleep, renal, exercise, respiratory, neurology, and cardiac)
- Dental specialists
- Dental technician
- Dental therapist
- Dispensing optician
- Drug and alcohol counsellor
- Enrolled nurse
- Genetic counsellor
- Medical laboratory pre-analytical technician
- Medical resonance imaging technologist
- Nuclear medicine technologist
- Nurse practitioner
- Oral health therapist
- Orthotic and prosthetic technician
- Paramedic/emergency medical technician
- Perfusionist (cardiac)
- Play therapist (hospital)
- Social worker
- Speech language therapist
- Sterile processing technician
Added to Straight to Residence list (previously Work to Residence):
- Anaesthetic Technician
- Medical imaging technologist
- Medical laboratory technician
- Medical radiation therapist
- Occupational therapist.
Hipkins said there was strong interest in moving to New Zealand, and the Green List changes made the country look very competitive.
“We’ll continue to work with health providers to make sure they’re providing attractive offerings to people to want to come here.”
With Stuart Nash’s removal from Cabinet, Conservation Minister Willow-Jean Prime will be joining it, Hipkins also announced. It will be the first time in New Zealand’s history when half the Cabinet will be women.
“If you look at the portfolios that Willow-Jean currently holds, including relatively hefty health delegations, being the minister of Conservation – it was a combination of her skills as a person and the portfolios,” Hipkins said.
“Willow’s got up to speed very quickly with the new portfolios that I gave her when I did the reshuffle… I’m sure she’ll be a very active contributor around the Cabinet table.
He said the gender balance is a nice-to-have, but it did not tip it in favour of one person or another.
Nash’s portfolios are also being permanently reallocated. The Economic Development portfolio will be picked up by Barbara Edmonds, Forestry will be picked up by Peeni Henare, and Meka Whaitiri will continue to coordinate Cyclone Recovery efforts in Hawke’s Bay.
Rachel Brooking will be raised to be a minister outside Cabinet, with Oceans and Fisheries and associate roles in Environment and Immigration.
Covid-19 rules to remain
Cabinet has also decided to keep the few remaining Covid-19 restrictions, for now.
Most pandemic rules have been scrapped, but people still have to self-isolate for seven days if they test positive, and masks must be worn in hospitals in some circumstances.
Hipkins said these rules would remain in place for another two months when they will be be considered again.
He has asked for further advice about testing so people may not need to isolate for the full period before returning to work.
Researchers at Covid-19 Modelling Aotearoa this afternoon had said ending the mandatory isolation period could cause up to a 25 percent increase in hospitalisations and deaths within six months. But infection numbers would settle after that, they added.