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Migration Pathways for Frontline Care Workers in Australia and New Zealand: Front Doors, Side Doors, Back Doors and Trapdoors


Joanna Howe, Sara Charlesworth and Deborah Brennan

This article examines the use of migration law and policy to address the labour needs of the care sector in two jurisdictions. New Zealand uses an Essential Skills visa to allow the direct entry of care workers on a temporary basis while Australia relies on a range of overseas born entrants including international students and working holiday makers, to meet labour supply challenges in the care sector and to supplement the local workforce, which includes many long-term permanent migrants. Changes to the work rights of working holiday makers, together with the introduction of a Designated Area Migration Agreement for Northern Australia and a Pacific Labour Scheme have created new opportunities for temporary entrants to work in care occupations but there is pressure on the Australian Government to open a dedicated temporary labour migration pathway for care workers. New Zealand’s revolving door of temporary migrant care workers and Australia’s de facto low skilled migration pathway both present regulatory challenges with regard to the protection of these workers in the labour market, their claims to citizenship and their opportunity to realise the ‘triple win’ promised in the temporary labour migration literature. The increasing reliance by Australia and New Zealand on temporary migrant care workers to meet the labour supply challenges in the sector also masks a range of other endemic employment relations problems in the sector (in particular, low pay) and may lead to a permanent demand for temporary migrant workers at the expense of local care workers.

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(2019) 42(1) UNSWLJ 211: