30 Aug 2021

'Zero response' from govt after visa delay concerns raised - doctor's union

7:46 pm on 30 August 2021

The Association of Salaried Medical Specialists (ASMS) is calling on the government to urgently address immigration difficulties for doctors and other health workers, describing the system as shambolic.

 Association of Salaried Medical Specialists (ASMS) executive director Sarah Dalton

ASMS executive director, Sarah Dalton says the government needs to have a more joined-up approach to bringing in medical specialists, or the health system will suffer. Photo: Supplied / LDR

Expressions of interest from skilled migrants for residence visas have been paused since March last year.

Hundreds of doctors and nurses are among those waiting for news.

The association said the current approach created frustration and angst. It raised concerns about the residence delays in June, writing to the Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi.

But its executive director, Sarah Dalton, said there had been "zero response".

"Overseas doctors caught up in this delay say the uncertainty makes it difficult," she said "They feel they can't buy a house, settle their families, or put down roots, and are being forced to reconsider their futures in New Zealand.

"We have one of the heaviest reliances on overseas trained doctors anywhere in the OECD, more than 40 percent of our senior medical workforce trained in another part of the world and then for various reasons chose to come and live in work in New Zealand."

DHBs had been raising it with Government and when Dalton met the health minister Andrew Little today, she says he signalled a decision was looming.

"I know that Hawke's Bay DHB have been raising it and other DHBs around the country who are concerned about the barriers it's placing on them being able to manage their services and deal with short staffing. And of course it's not just an issue for senior doctors, it applies across the whole health workforce.

"Bringing people here is a significant investment by DHBs, and a failure of government to be joined up - where what immigration is doing doesn't match what health is trying to do - that can cause real damage long term to the system, as well as to the individuals affected. So we're really looking for more joined-up approaches to these problems."

It was a waste of taxpayers' investments in recruiting overseas doctors, when immigration problems prompted them to return home, she added.

The immigration minister Kris Faafoi said the government acknowledged the disruption that suspension of Expressions of Interest selections for the Skilled Migrant Category has had.

"We are working through advice on when and how to re-open EOI selections, and will have decisions to announce soon," he said.

Doctors and nurses were likely to be eligible for temporary visas while they waited for EOIs to be selected, he said.

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs