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Accredited Employer Work Visa Flaws Spread To Health Sector

A cohort of nurses is likely to be the most recent casualties of the beleaguered accredited employer work visa scheme, which has faced intense scrutiny since being unveiled in 2022. Photo: Adobe Stock

Around 20 nurses holding accredited employer work visas claim to be jobless at a time when the country is struggling to deal with a shortage of healthcare workers.

The healthcare workers were recruited by a company operating in Canterbury, which promised them jobs and a valid visa if they relocated to New Zealand.

However, some workers claim the recruitment company has left them stranded without employment, and they are now facing difficulty securing work in the country.



The labour hire company responsible for recruiting the nurses denies the allegations.

The nurses are likely the most recent casualties of the beleaguered accredited employer work visa (AEWV) scheme, which has faced intense scrutiny since being unveiled in 2022.

The case is also believed to be the first instance in the health sector where AEWV holders have made allegations of exploitation.

The health sector has been suffering nursing shortages for many years, particularly after the Covid pandemic impacted staffing levels that were reportedly already stretched thin. Te Whatu Ora believed the country was short about 4800 nurses in July 2023.

According to Immigration New Zealand statistics as of 1 December, almost 50 percent of trained nurses who have registered to work in New Zealand since the country's borders opened in 2022 have arrived from India.

Overseas nurses seeking to relocate to New Zealand are eligible to work in the health sector if they receive a skilled migrant visa, resident visa, straight-to-residence visa or an accredited employer work visa.

Thirty-seven skilled migrant visas have been issued since 11 November 2022, with Indian nurses accounting for 16 of these.

A total of 1761 straight-to-residence visas have been issued since 15 December 2022, with Indian nurses also topping the list at 923 approvals.

Currently, most Indian nurses in New Zealand have obtained an accredited employer work visa.

A total of 2401 nurses possess accredited employer work visas, with 1783, or 74 percent, of them hailing from India.

"There have been a lot of enquiries from nurses regarding jobs in the past few months and what surprised me was that they were looking for a job with a valid AEWV visa," said Sumesh Maharaj, director of FITMED Recruitment International in Wellington.

The healthcare recruitment company in the capital helps internationally qualified nurses with registration and migration to other countries such as Australia.

In late 2023, Maharaj observed a significant uptick in inquiries from newly arrived Indian nurses in New Zealand, prompting numerous red flags.

"If they are on a work visa, why are they asking me to help them find a job?" Maharaj said. "They would have an employer already."

He said nine nurses had reached out to him in the past three months seeking assistance. Originally from South India, the nurses are currently residing in various parts of New Zealand.

Maharaj said the nurses' visas stipulated that they were only permitted to work in a particular region.

"They were reaching out to me from Auckland, Hamilton and Wellington, actively seeking employment, but their visas were issued solely for work in the Taranaki and Canterbury regions," he said.

The nurses claim they had been told by the recruitment company that no healthcare positions were available, and they were advised to seek employment independently.

"I suspect they were brought to New Zealand by a labour hire company and the enquiries were mostly about healthcare assistant roles," Maharaj said.

"From my conversations with these nurses, it appears that over 20 nurses from Kerala, India, are already in the country and I think many are on the way as we speak."

Maharaj said six people had reportedly secured employment in other roles on their own, while others faced difficulty finding work.

"They are afraid to complain or talk to the media because the company that brought them here has threatened them with visa cancellations and deportation," Maharaj said.

Maharaj said nurses typically faced significant challenges transitioning to a different employer under the constraints of the AEWV programme.

"They need to get a job with an accredited employer capable of providing a median wage and who can do a job check and has a job token," he said.

Maharaj said this process typically took some time and most of these nurses who have arrived in New Zealand without jobs were unaware of the process.

The AEWV process has attracted intense media scrutiny since reports emerged in early 2023 that migrant workers on such visas were finding themselves destitute and jobless after paying large sums of money to relocate to New Zealand.

A recent Public Service Commission review found that Immigration New Zealand (INZ) did not adequately assess the risk and impact of changes to speed up processing times would have on visa abuse.

Kerri Nuku is kaiwhakahaere (CEO) of the New Zealand Nurses Organisation.

                       Kerri Nuku is kaiwhakahaere (CEO) of the New Zealand Nurses Organisation. Photo: Supplied

"Our organisation has become aware of the issue," said Kerri Nuku, kaiwhakahaere (CEO) of the New Zealand Nurses Organisation.

The organisation has urged recruitment agencies to ensure that healthcare clients have secured employment before bringing them into the country.

"It just seems unbelievable that recruitment would be done without any ability to ascertain the people they've have summoned through their process and are in New Zealand at the moment," Nuku said. "That's pretty scary."

Nuku urged the stranded nurses to contact the sector's regulatory body, Nursing Council of New Zealand, for assistance.

"It's really difficult when you're over here and stranded and not really understanding the system," Nuku said.

The New Zealand Nurses Organisation confirmed it had received a complaint from a group of nurses about their situation.

Labour hire company denies allegations

The labor hire company, which has allegedly brought more than 50 nurses to New Zealand since 2023, denies the exploitation allegations that have been raised.

The company's managing director said she was unaware of any client having trouble finding work in New Zealand.

While admitting the company had helped five nurses relocate to New Zealand from India in December, she didn't know how many had arrived in January and February despite providing visas to them.

"I don't know where they are working because they should be working for me," the managing director said.

She also denied threatening her workers with visa cancellations and deportation.

Stephanie Greathead, national manager of Immigration Compliance and Investigations, said Immigration New Zealand was unaware of the Indian nurses' plight.

The Nursing Council of New Zealand also said it had not received a formal complaint from any nurses.

What's more, the council said it was not involved in the recruitment of internationally qualified nurses.

On 28 February, Immigration Minister Erica Stanford told reporters she planned to bring proposals for immediate changes to the accredited employer work visa to Cabinet within a couple of weeks.

She said the reform would aim to balance getting highly skilled workers into New Zealand against the need to support them with adequate infrastructure.

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