Caring for the elderly is perceived to be a relatively low skilled, low paid and a lowstatus vocation. This makes it difficult to attract people, especially young people from the local labour force into this vocation. Reflecting the type of work and its status, caring is highly gendered.
New Zealand’s population is rapidly ageing. It is estimated that in 2031 those 65 and older will represent 35 percent of the population aged 15-64. While part of this increase is due to healthy ageing, nevertheless the number of people requiring some form of care is projected to dramatically increase. It is projected that 48,200 paid caregivers will be needed by 2036 to look after a growing number of older disabled New Zealanders requiring high levels of care and support. It is highly unlikely that the local supply will be sufficient to meet this demand. Therefore immigration of low-skill workers needs to be considered as a part of the measures needed to alleviate the future pressures on the demand for paid caregivers for the elderly.
New Zealand does not have a formal scheme for caregiver migration. However there has been a rapid and growing reliance on migrant caregivers for the elderly over the last five years. In the past, caregivers for the elderly from the Pacific formed a constant source of workers; however, in the last two years there has been a sudden rise in migrant caregivers for the elderly from the Philippines. In addition to this, while in the ten years between 1991 and 2001, overseas born caregivers for the elderly roughly made up 20% of the workforce, in 2006 the proportion increased to one quarter.
Globally as the demand for elder care grows, New Zealand may not be able to rely on the current sources of migrant caregivers for the elderly and alternative regions such as Melanesia and non-traditional parts of Asia need to be considered. While temporary migration is one option, programmes that provide pathways to permanent migration also need to be considered.
As has occurred in some other industrialised countries, it is possible that issues of integration will arise from low skill migration. The impact of low skill migration on the labour market and skills formation and productivity must also be considered.