10 Feb 2022

Covid-19: Residency eligibility leaving nurses in limbo, despite critical shortage

6:26 am on 10 February 2022

A group of New Zealand-trained nurses - some working with Covid-19 patients - are considering leaving the country because they can't get a visa to live here.

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File photo. Photo: 123RF

That's despite a nursing shortage so big it's at crisis levels.

The government offered one-off residency visas to registered nurses from overseas but migrant nurses who were newly-trained in the New Zealand system did not qualify.

One nurse, who sometimes cared for Covid-19 patients, said it was frustrating.

"We are critical health workers - we are dealing with Covid patients every day," she said.

She finished her Bachelor of Nursing last year and was seeing the nursing shortages first hand in her work.

"Last night was full crazy ... running over my own feet. Every day we are very short of nurses. They do need nurses everywhere," she said.

She was granted a three-year working visa, which meant she had no certainty about her future here, could not buy a home and did not have full access to state health care.

Tauranga nurse Parminder was in the same boat

She was orginally from India had worked in aged care in New Zealand for nine years, finishing her studies last year to become a fully registered nurse.

She loved working with elderly patients who had become like family - and she wanted to stay.

But it was difficult without certainty, she said.

Nurse Navneet Kaur represented a dozen nurses facing the same situation in Tauranga alone - and said there were more around the country.

Some were considering going to Australia or Canada where they qualifed for residency just so they could have some certainty about their futures, she said

She has a four-year-old son and is now having to apply for a student visa for him to go to school.

"I have to again deal with applying for visas and visas and visas, and we are registered nurses here now," she said.

New Zealand Nurses Organisation acting chief executive Mairi Lucas said the staffing crisis was so bad, the country could not afford to lose a single nurse.

She welcomed the new pathway for overseas nurses to get residency but said it was baffling to see the New Zealand-trained nurses caught out.

Most were already working here and wanted to stay.

"They understand our systems, they understand our culture, they understand our people," she said.

Immigration New Zealand says the one-off residence pathway that applied to the overseas nurses was created to help employers attract critical workers from offshore despite the tight border restrictions.

Those who did not qualify would have a chance to apply as skilled migrants at the end of July, it said.

But the nurses said there was no certainty they would get a visa then and they needed to plan their futures.

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