New Zealand is facing an acute shortage of health professionals while more than 1,000 registered doctors and nurses are facing a long and frustrating wait in the residency queue:
GPs are urging the Government to urgently re-open residency for healthcare workers to avoid losing them overseas.
There are more than 1000 registered doctors and nurses stuck in the frozen immigration queue – and Newshub has spoken to one doctor who’s giving up and leaving.
Nina Fransham’s first New Zealand holiday was a Kiwi classic – travelling in a campervan, she saw how beautiful the country was and knew it would be great for children.
She moved from the UK to Northland in December 2019. Loving it so much, she encouraged other foreign doctors to move to Northland – but her love has limits.
“Our lives just feel incredibly temporary and that’s incredibly frustrating,” she told Newshub.
Fransham is stuck in the frozen residency queue for skilled migrants – unable to access KiwiSaver, healthcare or buy a house. So next week, she’s reluctantly moving back to the UK.
“No one in their sane mind would fly all the way back to the UK in the middle of a world pandemic working in the NHS.”
But she’s far from alone.
When COVID-19 hit last year and the borders were slammed shut, Immigration New Zealand also shut down residency applications, leaving 10,000 skilled migrants in the queue.
Immigration New Zealand figures show among them are 901 registered nurses and 235 doctors – like Fransham. They’re healthcare workers New Zealand desperately needs, already in the country, working in our health system, just waiting on the Government. . .
Another doctor, Ann Solomon is facing the same long, frustrating wait:
New Zealand needs doctors like Ann Solomon so much the Government granted her a rare border exemption to enter the country after Covid-19, now she is thinking of going back to England because the situation around residency rights is so uncertain.
Facing major shortages in healthcare and education the Government created these border exemptions to fill critical worker shortages. Solomon came to New Zealand on such an exemption in August.
However, the Government did not fix other problems within the immigration system when it did, meaning even someone as highly-paid and sought-after as Solomon, who is a general practitioner, cannot be sure they will be allowed to stay in the country long-term as a permanent resident.
“I know lots of GPs are going to Australia and I know my colleague up the road has just given up and gone, which is just placing more of a burden on our practice. . .
Solomon thought getting residency would be easy given how the Government made an exception for her at the border, but the process for selecting applications like hers for residency has been paused, meaning she has no timeline for when she might be able to buy a house or start contributing to KiwiSaver. . .
It’s not just health professionals who are in the queue.
The Fair Initiative founder associate Charlotte te Riet Scholten-Phillips says an ongoing survey of 2385 migrants on temporary visas shows 82.4 per cent of them have considered moving to another country, while 69.7 per cent of people said the specific country they were thinking of offered up a clearer path to residency.
“A lot of us had perfectly OK lives ‘back home’. We left them because we believed New Zealand offered better, but it’s not that we can’t return if things here are awful, which they are currently,” te Riet Scholten-Phillips says, a British immigrant who moved from the Netherlands.
National Party Immigration spokeswoman Erica Stanford says she is concerned so many migrants are considering leaving while we have little ability to replace them because of border restrictions and low managed isolation (MIQ) capacity.
“It makes it even more important that we hold onto the people that we have in New Zealand, the highly skilled, talented people.
“We have a number of highly-skilled teachers, doctors, nurses, engineers that are onshore that are actively looking to leave because they’re either stuck in a residency queue that is going nowhere or they’re split from their families.
“If we want them to stay here, we need to treat them better.” . .
Immigration is broken.
A small part of the problem could be lack of capacity in the Ministry of Immigration but most of the blame lies with the policy and the Minister who could change it with little if any delay.
How hard would it be to alter the current settings to allow anyone with a proven work record, stable employment and no criminal history to be granted residency?
While doing this, the Minister should also open some MIQ spaces to enable the family members to join migrants who are here. Keeping them apart as the government does is inhumane.
That would of course mean sorting out the MIQ debacle:
Anything is tolerable if it is temporary, especially if you are living to the promise of “building back better”, but what if the pain isn’t fleeting but permanent, or what you are building isn’t better, but worse? . .
Immigration New Zealand relationship manager Paul Millar certainly seems to think systems around MIQ bookings are unlikely to improve anytime soon and that costly tools could give people an advantage in securing spots.
“The one thing we can’t control is MIQ. A lot of people think that’s an immigration thing. While it is inextricably connected to the immigration process. MIQ is a beast all of its own making,” Millar told a gathering of exporters this week.
“We do say to businesses that you have to allow for that, for the MIQ process and timing and being able to either have a really quick finger or know a very tech-savvy company that can help you, and pay a premium to get a space.” . .
This is a public servant suggesting people use virtual scalpers to get into MIQ.
Hastily set up systems, like the one created for managed isolation bookings, are fine if they are some sort of pit stop on the way to a new normal, but not if they are where we are supposed to end up.
Yet there is a real fear disruptive elements of the pandemic, like the chaos in international shipping, are set to become permanent fixtures.
Even if/when New Zealand gets sufficient people vaccinated to establish herd immunity, the borders won’t be opening as they were. Fully vaccinated people from countries with no community transmission of Covid-19 should be able to come in without needing a space in MIQ, but people who aren’t vaccinated and those from countries where the disease is in the community will still have to quarantine.
Limited managed isolation capacity, and the way it is allocated, is not just a humanitarian issue but an economic one.
Earlier on in the pandemic many criticised the use of managed isolation for “business trips”, but we will need to accommodate a certain level of business travel to maintain our country’s economic growth.
Exporters need people to buy their exports, even if those products are digital. And when you are negotiating across borders or competing against competitors who can meet buyers in-person an echoey Zoom connection won’t always cut it. . .
Yet it is clearly going to be unconscionable to use the MIQ system for business travel while citizens in need are effectively locked out of it and families of critical workers like teachers and healthcare professions are not able to use them either.
Surely this will all be fixed soon, you say? You would hope so, but if the pandemic has taught us anything it is that we shouldn’t assume it will be fixed either. . .
The need for a better MIQ system and facilities won’t go away in the short term. It is at least a medium, possibly long, term, problem and it needs medium to long term solutions.
But part of the solution to the worker shortage could be fixed almost immediately by making it far, far easier for those already here to gain residency so they and their families can stay.
It would also be paying heed to the be-kind mantra we’re all exhorted to follow but which the government is far better at preaching than practising.