Immigration move a ‘game-changer’ for aged care workers

Immigration lawyers are scrambling to let clients know that changes to a trans-Tasman job classification system could make a big difference to their lives, explains Dileepa Fonseka. 

History was made for migrant workers in the aged care sector this week. 

For the first time, people who move to New Zealand to look after the country’s elderly will have a realistic chance of becoming permanent residents. 

Immigration Lawyer Alastair McClymont says it is “all hands on deck” in his office after the change, for the Chief Executive of the New Zealand Aged Care Association Simon Wallace “it’s potentially a game-changer” for his industry, and Union Network of Migrants spokesman Mandeep Bela believes “it is a positive step” for the country’s immigration policy. 

And it affects more than just personal care workers; a long list of other professions have been shifted up the ranks too - from beauty therapists and bungy-jump masters, to train drivers. 

The technical change to Immigration New Zealand’s Operational Manual was heralded with little fanfare by INZ on Wednesday when it announced the release of a new version of ANZSCO. 

“These are occupations where people have had trouble applying for residency in the past.”

Despite its deceptively bland name, the Australian and New Zealand Standard Classification of Occupations (ANZSCO) plays a big part within the immigration systems of both Australia and New Zealand. 

ANZSCO is used by INZ to determine whether a job is low, medium or high-skilled. 

A job’s ANZSCO skill level makes a big difference to the types of visas migrants in those professions can get - and what their chances of getting residency are. 

Immigration lawyer Alastair McClymont said his staff were busy fishing out the names of people who were declined residency in the past but who might have a shot now.

“These are occupations where people have had trouble applying for residency in the past.”

“Game-changer” for aged care

Wallace said the aged care industry had lobbied for a change to its classification under ANZSCO for a number of years. 

“It’s a role that’s not only providing physical support to an older person but it’s an emotional support.”

The classification system was designed and consulted on over a six-year period between 2000 and 2006 by both the Australian Bureau of Statistics and Stats NZ.

Wallace said the role of a personal care worker had changed a lot in that time. 

“It’s a role that’s not only providing physical support to an older person but it’s an emotional support,” Wallace said.

“Our caregivers are doing a lot more care in the area of specialist dementia care and ANZSCO just hasn’t moved with the times to reflect the changing skill levels of our caregivers.”

Lawyer Alastair McClymont says it is almost impossible to qualify for residency outside a profession recognised as skilled under ANZSCO.

Classifying aged care work as low-skilled also meant the visa for it had to be renewed every year for a maximum of three years and employers needed to go through a local job hunt process before they could bring in overseas recruits, Wallace said.

An ageing population means New Zealand’s need for aged care workers was growing every year and the country would need to bring 800-1000 new workers into the industry for a number of years to cater for this, he said.

The ANZSCO changes would mean an employer in the aged care sector could now bank on its employees staying with the company for a number of years. That certainty would open up new opportunities for training and investment, Wallace said.

“It gives the employee more certainty, it gives the employer more certainty.”

Wallace said it was also the first time aged care workers - at the pay rate of $25 per hour - had a pathway to residency based on their skills. 

McClymont said the way the points system for immigration is structured is “almost impossible” to qualify for residency outside a profession that is officially recognised as skilled under ANZSCO. 

“So far it is accepted as a positive outcome for those who will qualify.”

Professions like aged care were currently assessed as falling under skill levels 4-5 while “skilled employment” was officially any profession that had a skill level of 1-3, McClymont said.

“People currently working in occupations which are currently assessed as skill level 4-5 have no pathway to residence.”

Bela, whose organisation represents a large number of migrant workers, said there had been a little bit of confusion amongst migrants about whether their jobs were included within a particular classification or not. 

“So far it is accepted as a positive outcome for those who will qualify.”

Alastair McClymont says the new classification could also help with migrant exploitation issues too. 

McClymont said the new classification would also tackle a major migrant exploitation in New Zealand - several were investigated by Stuff last year - by opening up a pathway to residency that would make migrants less desperate and leave them less vulnerable to exploitation. 

“This latest move however wasn’t designed to do that,” McClymont said.

“It has come about by accident simply because the Australian and New Zealand Statistics departments are releasing a new updated version of ANZSCO.”

ANZSCO and New Zealand’s immigration immigration system

Ironically New Zealand is largely ditching ANZSCO for immigration purposes next year. 

But that won’t change the situation for those migrants in professions that have been recognised as skilled during the ANZSCO update.

They’ve been slotted in as an exception to new immigration rules that would have otherwise ranked jobs as low, medium, or high-skilled based on pay rates rather than ANZSCO.

“Obviously Immigration New Zealand have been a key user of the classification but they are one user.”

Andrew Hancock, principal analyst of Data Standards and Design at Stats NZ, said the latest update of ANZSCO was driven by concerns - some recorded since 2006 - that up to a third of the job classifications needed to be looked at again.

In the aged care sector a new qualification required for aged care workers indicated to them that its skill level was likely recorded as too low in ANZSCO, he said.

The update of skill levels is the first of its kind since the classification was created.

Hancock said while immigration was a major user of ANZSCO, its categories would still be used in other places like official job statistics.

“Obviously Immigration New Zealand have been a key user of the classification but they are one user,” he said.

“So just because the essential skills and demand list is about to change - and have ANZSCO taken out of it - that does not reduce the usage of the classification from our perspective.”

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