Green List nurses still facing barriers

With the recent inclusion of pharmacists, counsellors, and 30 other medical professionals in the Green List Visa fast track to residency pathway, are Immigration New Zealand and the government finally acknowledging they missed the mark in attracting critical healthcare workers?

In this blog, NZIL’s principal lawyer, Aaron Martin, provides expert insights on the government’s missteps and the actions they must take to address the barriers faced by nurses seeking to live and work in New Zealand.

Political football

As Newstalk ZBs Tim Dower pointed out in July 2022, immigration in New Zealand has become somewhat of a political football. But playing with a crumbling healthcare system and a migrant’s ability to live and work in New Zealand is not a game. 

Despite two years of sector appeals for more direct residency options for essential healthcare workers, nurses and midwives were only included in the Green List fast-track pathway in December 2022, leaving New Zealand’s hospitals facing yet another winter of chaos. 

Flawed approach

The government revised policy shows what National’s Dr Shane Reiti and Keriana Brooking, who sent an open letter to the Ministry of Health in 2021 on behalf of all DHB’s, knew to be true: the government’s approach to immigration settings for critical healthcare support was seriously flawed. If the government were genuinely committed to solving New Zealand’s recruitment challenges, nurses and midwives should have been added to the green list from the very beginning. 

Barriers remain 

In April 2023, NZ Prime Minister Chris Hipkins stated that the government was addressing the “global health worker shortage” with these updated immigration policies. 

Hipkins stated that the government are aiming to eliminate unnecessary obstacles and “barriers” for healthcare workers wishing to reside and work in New Zealand. 

However, despite these efforts, barriers still persist, and these new changes do little to address the broader issues nurses face during what can often be a fraught and complex process. 

Competition from across the ditch

In March 2023, a New Zealand Herald report indicated that nearly 200 nurses, midwives, and specialist doctors applied for residency via the Green List visa pathway since becoming eligible in December 2022. 

However, of 174 registered nurses approved for the straight-to-residency pathway, only one of the 13 offshore applicants had arrived in the country, while 161 applicants were already in NZ when they applied.

In 2022 an overseas recruitment advertising campaign was created to attract healthcare staff. Despite its $500k price tag, the advert resulted in just three people being interviewed, with NZ Nurses Organisation Kerri Nuku saying the money “could have been better utilised.”

While the government are now attempting to attract nurses and key healthcare workers that have already taken up employment in countries like Australia, the UK and Canada, these figures further highlight that the ship has already sailed. 

Proactive planning 

During the Covid pandemic, countries like Australia, Canada and the UK foreshadowed the need for crucial healthcare workers. These countries were proactive in opening their borders and providing nurses with attractive options that addressed their immigration needs and offered help in terms of relocation packages and training.  

While in NZ, migrant nurses still have to jump through hoops in areas such as housing, relocation, and paying an up-front competency assessment fee of approximately $10,000. Although the fee is refundable in almost 99% of cases, it raises the question of why it is charged, to begin with. 

Critical issue

Like most of the substandard immigration policies over the last few years, the government’s latest attempt to recruit key health workers is a band aid when what is needed is a complete restructure to fix the broader issues of what it’s like to live and work as a nurse in New Zealand.

This is a critical issue that the government must address so New Zealand can once again attract and retain highly skilled healthcare workers.

How NZIL can help 

NZIL is dedicated to supporting nurses and key healthcare workers throughout the immigration process. If you require help or advice regarding your application, contact our team. 

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