Almost 50 percent of trained nurses who have registered to work in New Zealand since the country's borders opened last year have relocated from India, according to latest statistics from Immigration New Zealand.
Statistics show that trained Indian nurses account for 3263 of the 6600 visas that were approved by the agency since July 2022.
Overseas nurses seeking to relocate to New Zealand are eligible to work if they receive an accredited employer work visa, skilled migrant visa, resident visa or straight-to-residence visa.
A total of 3531 accredited employer work visas have been issued since the scheme was launched on 4 July 2022, with 2324 Indian nurses receiving such a visa. Seven hundred and fifty-one Philippine nurses received an accredited employer work visa in the same period.
A total of 1761 straight-to-residence visas have been issued since 15 December 2022, with Indian nurses also topping the list at 923 approvals.
Thirty-seven skilled migrant visas have been issued since 11 November 2022, with Indian nurses accounting for 16 of these.
When New Zealand's borders were closed from March 2020 to July 2022, 1271 nurses were granted approval to travel to New Zealand under a border exception to address health worker shortages in the country. During this period, 535 approvals were granted to nurses from the Philippines, with another 271 being issued to Indian nurses.
In July, the Labour government introduced a raft of measures to address the worker shortage, including increasing clinical placements for nursing students.
Additionally, nurses were added to Immigration New Zealand's green list in April, which provides faster pathways for residencies to attract international healthcare workers to New Zealand.
"Over the last quarter - from 1 July to 30 September - 4505 new nurses have joined the New Zealand Register of Nurses," says John Snook, Te Whatu Ora's director of workforce planning and development.
"That's a net increase of around 3000 nurses over the same period," he says.
By comparison, only 2142 nurses joined the register in the same period the previous year.
Te Whatu Ora has witnessed a sharp increase in the number of nurses joining its workforce since mid-2022, mainly due to an increased flow of internationally qualified nurses into New Zealand.
"Joining the register does not guarantee that the nurse intends to practice in New Zealand but many of these people will be coming here to work," Snook says.
According to Te Whatu Ora, New Zealand faces a shortage of around 4800 nurses nationwide.
Similarly, New Zealand Nurses Organisation kaiwhakahaere (CEO) Kerri Nuku believes there are "about 4000 to 5000 nurse vacancies" across the country.
Nuku says the recent influx of internationally trained nurses can fill these positions.
"So, we definitely need more nurses and there is still a significant vacancy," Nuku says.
She recognizes the contribution of internationally qualified nurses to New Zealand's workforce but underscores the challenge posed by retirements among existing nursing professionals.
Nuku calls for greater effort to retain and foster the growth of nurses within New Zealand.
"The Nursing Council's regulatory body says that there are about 745,000 nurses with their annual practicing certificate, but every year about 6 percent of those nurses are not working in New Zealand," she says.
This is partly due to nurses choosing to work in Australia due to the Transpacific agreement and broader support provided there.
Nuku says countries such as Australia typically offer more support and incentives for nurses, attracting talent away from New Zealand.
"I know students are opting to train as nurses in Australia due to initiatives like fee-free education, better pay and incentives upon starting work - factors that entice individuals to relocate across the ditch."