Concerns for Aged Care After Immigration Laws Change

photo credit: Ryman Australia

Just as the hospitality and horticulture sectors are struggling with labour gaps, rest homes and elderly hospitals are full houses with not enough healthcare assistants to look after them.

In New Zealand, 40,000 aged care beds are filled by elderly people who need 24/7 care and can’t be looked after by their families.

Instead, they are cared for by 22,000 health care assistants, of whom are predominantly on temporary migrant visas.

Under New Zealand’s immigration proposals, the welcome mat may be pulled out for these semi-skilled workers as part of the government’s proposal to cull the amount of ‘low-skill' and low wage migrant workers to focus on employing and upskilling Kiwis post-Covid.

Work visas are issued for three years but temporary migrants or their employers must apply annually for renewal. After three years, migrant workers have to pack up and go home, irrespective of whether a Kiwi can replace them – a policy the aged care sector hopes will be changed.

Just as the hospitality and horticulture sectors are struggling without enough migrant workers to do the lower-level jobs that locals can’t or won’t do, rest homes and elderly hospitals are full houses with not enough healthcare assistants to look after them.

Albie Calope, village manager, said it is stressful trying to find enough carers to look after the 116 residents at the Malvina Major retirement village. He has 120 staff, most of whom are on temporary migrant visas, and several vacancies.

After the unveiling of the immigration proposal’s last month, economic development minister, Stuart Nash, told business leaders that temporary visas doubled in the decade before Covid, which highlights New Zealand’s reliance on migrant labour. He said sectors which rely on migrant labour, such as the tourism industry, will look different from now on.

The government also announced that future migrant health care workers would have to be paid a minimum of NZ$27 an hour to qualify for a visa.

Aged Care Association chief executive Simon Wallace said rest homes are a significant employer of migrants and the sector is 300-500 nurses short. Of the 5,000 nurses in aged care, more than half are here on visas. There are also very few on $27 an hour, and facilities are only funded so much by the government.

Whilst the government has conceded to a visa extension, a verdict is yet to be determined.