Immigration advisers say changes to visa rules are needed to attract overseas nurses into care homes.
The Aged Care Association said a survey showed there were 500 nurse vacancies or 10 percent of the 5000 nursing positions in rest homes.
It fears that could get worse after a recruitment drive for hospital nurses, who won pay rises of between 12.5 percent and 16 percent.
Association of Migration and Investment chairwoman June Ranson said many care homes now pay good wages but immigration changes meant that was not enough of an incentive.
Workers were being deterred by not being able to bring their families with them, and having to leave the country after three years, she said.
"Aged-care workers are an integral part of a necessary service," she said. "It is very hard work and we have extreme shortages which cannot be filled within the New Zealand workforce.
"So, to attract the people we want from overseas and retain them, we need to review the current policy and allow the aged care worker to bring their families with them.
"We are just expecting the migrant to pay for a visa each year for three years and then leave New Zealand - is this attractive?"
While older people were being encouraged to sell their homes and move into residential care to help with the housing shortage, those care homes could not expand because of a lack of staff, Ms Ranson said .
"We must ask the question, have we got it right with current practice? As aged care is not the only example of where the country has a large demand for labour all hampered by the same criteria of yearly visas for three years, not having the ability to bring their family and after three years leave," she said.
That was also disruptive to elderly residents, who formed relationships with their carers, she said.