Thursday, February 29, 2024

Kerre Woodham: What is happening with NZ immigration?

Now, what on Earth is going on within immigration New Zealand? Ever since the days of the late, unlamented Iain Lees-Galloway, the department has been struggling.

A pause was placed on the processing of grandparents' visas, that was before Covid. Migrant workers are still being exploited by unscrupulous employers, despite a number of reviews under former Immigration Ministers.

Last year it was revealed that there were nearly 200 employers who had had their licenses to hire migrants revoked because they were not delivering on what the law requires and on what was promised. Immigration New Zealand are investigating 167 more businesses.

Immigration Minister Erica Stanford accepts that there were a number of pressures on Immigration New Zealand staff. The reopening of borders after Covid-19, unprecedented demand for workers, and new staff in the department did result in visas and applications being processed one per week instead of one per day, which really slows things up.

But then if you're asking staff who are new to the department for extra checks and to be super scrupulous, there's going to be a lag. There was also the merging of six visas into one, and a new IT system that's not fully operational. We knew about that, still not fully operational.

At the same time, we have unprecedented numbers of people flocking to New Zealand. But are they the people we need to make New Zealand a better, stronger, more resilient society and economy and in turn, are they getting what they're being promised?

It's a huge commitment to leave your family, to leave your home country, to take your own family, to pick up everything you own and come to a brand new country, a brand new culture. And the expectation is that your skills will be recognised and you'll have a place here, that you will belong here.

Are we in turn giving migrant workers what they're expecting? Look at the nurses. We have nurses coming here spending tens of thousands of dollars to do so, just on their applications. That's before you even take into account airfares, rent and the like. And yet they're being told that their skill sets are not what hospitals are looking for.

Canterbury Hospital in its ‘situations vacant’, they had a need for nurses in maternity, oncology, acute general surgery, that sort of thing. But in their ‘sits vac’ they said applications from nurses who had recently completed their competency assessment programs would not be accepted.

So basically saying, if you're new to New Zealand, you've just done your competency as assessment, don't bother applying. There has been a huge influx of internationally qualified nurses coming to New Zealand since our borders opened.

Of the newly registered nurses in the October to December quarter, 63% were trained overseas. To be fair to Andrew Little, the former health minister, he did say there were a lot of nurses wanting to come to New Zealand, and finally they're here.

Despite being trained, despite completing their competency, the rejections just keep coming for them. At Gore Hospital 80, international nurses applied for a job, none of them had the necessary qualifications or experience.

So where do we need to fix things?

I'm not going to say where does the blame lie, where do we need to fix things? Do the health authorities need to be clearer with immigration?

That the sort of nurses they’re after are experienced nurses that won't require wrap-around care for the first couple of years to get them up to the speed of the positions that are available. Do the recruiters need to be much clearer?

What if you're a brand shiny new nurse, keen and eager and desperate to start your career in a new country, your language is fine, you've done the cultural competency, but you just don't have the experience and that you understand that?

You can understand Gore Hospital if you've got a sole charge nurse, it's not fair on the hospital, the patients or the nurse herself or himself to put a nurse in charge of the entire hospital. So where do we need to make changes so nurses aren't disappointed and hospitals are getting the staff they need?

How functional is Immigration New Zealand at the moment? If it's taking a week to do a job that it used to take a day to do, so we need more staff in there? Do we need to put a cap on the number of applications that can be taken in any given month?

You've got international tourists wanting to come here waiting for visitors visas, a huge backlog of those. 36,000 last year were waiting for visitor visas to come here. When it comes to trying to get family over, if you've tried to do that yourself, you know the absolute administrative nightmare it is trying to get that to happen. And then the hurry up and wait.

The new technology was supposed to speed things up, and that's not fully operational yet. Are you confident that once the IT is doing what it should the job will be made easier for those within the department, and life will be easier for those who have to use it?

You know it's great that people want to come here. Our forebears all wanted to come here. We all came from somewhere to come to New Zealand. And there's undoubtedly a shortage, across the board in so many, many areas, but are we falling back into the bad old habits of just taking all comers who are undercutting New Zealand workers because they can, because they're willing to live 16 to a three bedroom house?

Are we offering false hope to qualified people like the nurse, like teachers saying, you're very welcome and then ultimately pulling the welcome mat out from under them?

Kerre McIvor, is a journalist, radio presenter, author and columnist. Currently hosts the Kerre Woodham mornings show on Newstalk ZB - where this article was sourced.

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