Frustrated New Zealand-trained migrant nurses are planning to leave the country because they cannot find an immediate path to residency, just as the government tries to entice foreigners to fill thousands of jobs in hospitals, aged care and clinics.
Recent graduates working in aged care in Tauranga say they are being forced to abandon their dream home because of an immigration policy that means they must wait another two years for residency.
Sandeep Kaur has spent years separated from her two young sons in India while studying for a nursing degree in New Zealand.
She said she was devastated the profession was excluded from super-fast residency visas under the new immigration Green List,months after her graduation late last year.
“I feel really frustrated, I sometimes cry. I did everything to get a good future here, whatever I save I spend it on my study. I’m separated from my kids, it’s just really heartbreaking,” she said.
Kaur and her husband are preparing to move to Australia where she can gain residency quickly and reunite her family.
“I really don’t want to leave New Zealand because I really love this country. I spent a beautiful six years of my life here.”
Another Tauranga nurse, who did not want to be named, said she planned to leave New Zealand for Australia or Canada where she could apply for residency straight away.
“It was my dream country to come to at the beginning, but at the end of the day, you have to think about your career as well. I’ve had enough now. I’ve waited a long time, I can’t wait any more,” she said.
“I still love New Zealand. If the government makes changes tomorrow I will cancel all my plans, I really, really do want to stay here but unfortunately I have no other options left.”
Navneet Kaur came to New Zealand from India in 2015 and spent $60,000 studying towards her Bachelor of Nursing.
She thought a residency application would be straightforward once she qualified, but is now planning to move to Australia with her husband and four-year-old son.
“It’s a really hard decision to move to Australia. My son was born here in Tauranga.
“We don’t want to leave New Zealand, we are being forced to leave New Zealand. It’s totally unfair.”
All three nurses were on student visas finishing their degrees last September, so could not apply under the one-off 2021 Resident Visa scheme.
The nurses said they craved the certainty and other benefits associated with residency, including home ownership and subsidised study.
They warned the residency rules would only make chronic staff shortages worse, with an estimated 4000 nurse vacancies in the public health system.
Immigration Minister Michael Wood said skilled migrants in work-to-residence occupations could count their two years from 29 September 2021.
“The work-to-residence path requires two years’ work in the role ahead of gaining residence which supports addressing the shortages, whereas a straight-to-residence pathway would not require any time in the role before a worker could potentially leave.
“A two-year period ensures a degree of commitment to the role and to New Zealand.
“I continue to monitor and update my colleagues on progress implementing the rebalance, and I will not be afraid to act before the previously signalled review in 2023 if required.”
The government has repeatedly highlighted retention problems as one of the main reasons nurses should be treated differently under the Green List rules, although just four percent of New Zealand-trained nurses left the profession in 2020.
Figures released to the National Party showed just 18 migrant nurses applied to come to New Zealand in the first six weeks of the new residency visa, compared to a monthly average of 57 under the previous critical purpose visa.
Immigration spokeswoman Erica Standford said nurses should be on the straight-to-residence Green List.
“They look for certainty. They don’t want to be mucking around for two years not knowing if they’re going to be able to get their residence.
“It’s a no-brainer for these nurses and that is why they’re leaving.”