The government is being told to act swiftly on immigration because delays are causing the loss of urgently needed medical personnel during the Covid-19 outbreak.
An immigration attorney wants an expedited work-to-residence process for doctors and nurses, and says doctors are the soldiers on the front lines of the pandemic.
Kamil Lakshman said there was a lack of urgency in immigration policy, especially given the stakes with doctors and nurses.
“The way I see it is that this virus is like an enemy, an invisible enemy, and our doctors and our medical profession and our health workers are the soldiers who watch us if it explodes,” he said.
“So certainly we need to protect these people, we certainly have to retain them. We have to see it as an emergency and the narrative needs to change.”
Expressions of Interest (EOI) are still accepted on qualified migrant residence visas, but none have been selected for 18 months, as the government suspended them at the start of the pandemic.
More than 10,000 EOIs are waiting to be selected, including more than 900 nurses and 235 physicians.
An expedited work-to-residence visa without the usual minimum deadlines would solve the problem, Lakshman said, as well as potentially attracting more medical personnel from abroad.
Kate McKendry recruits foreign psychiatrists, while her colleagues find GPs and specialists in hospitals. New Zealand was already losing doctors going home or heading to other countries where the residency policy was clearer, he said.
While there has always been a shortage of candidates for New Zealand, as it could not compete on salary with countries like Canada and Australia, now it could not even offer permanent residency, he said.
That uncertainty affected those who were considering moving and those already working here, and was wasting time, money and effort.
“It is a lot of work for us, it is a lot of work for the doctor and it is a lot of work and a lot of money for the DHB (district health boards),” he said.
“You have to think from the perspective of a DHB, this is a lot of money that they are investing to get someone to move, and if someone moves here and wants to be here permanently, but they feel like they can’t stay here permanently, that’s a huge disappointment. And it has financial implications, it has implications for the workforce, it’s huge.
“I don’t understand why you wouldn’t open that path for psychiatrists and doctors that we really need. I spoke to a doctor who is from the UK, he’s on a WhatsApp group with his old colleagues and some of those looking to move [here]They are not even considering it, they are discounting New Zealand from the start because there is no such permanent path for them. “
RNZ has heard from GPs, hospital doctors and specialists who have left or are planning to leave due to uncertainty about immigration policy and when the government will make decisions.
Immigration consultant David Cooper said the healthcare shortage needs to be addressed and it’s time to move on with your residency applications.
“There is a critical shortage throughout the healthcare sector,” he said. “And being able to say to an ICU nurse in Birmingham, ‘Please come to New Zealand, you will be paid less and you cannot get residency in New Zealand, you will not be able to buy a house.’ , but we really need you here ‘- not a big sale, is it?
In a statement, Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi said doctors and nurses met the priority criteria for residency if they applied before expressions of interest were suspended last year.
“While doctors and nurses on the ground wait for residency applications to be processed or EOIs to be selected, they are likely to be eligible for several additional temporary visas to stay in New Zealand,” he said.
“The government acknowledges the disruption that suspension of Expressions of Interest selections for the Qualified Migrant category has had on some individuals. We are working to advise on when and how to reopen EOI selections, and will have decisions to announce soon.”
Border exception requests had allowed 7,734 health workers and their families to arrive since April last year, he added.