Only nine nurses have applied to come to the country within the four weeks of a new residency visa, according to figures from the Department of Employment given to RNZ.
Nurses said this was only a fraction of the staff required, but Health Minister Andrew Little said the proper July data would not be known until the end of this month due a processing period of 20 working days for applicants.
The new Immigration New Zealand list offers direct routes to residency and work to residency for migrants in high-skilled, hard-to-fill jobs.
Nurses have been controversially excluded from the accelerated Tier One stream, so unlike doctors, engineers and scientists, they can only apply for residency after working in New Zealand for two years.
Department for Business, Innovation and Jobs figures showed nine nurses had applied for the green list visa before July 28.
The New Zealand Nurses Organization kaiwhakahaere Kerri Nuku said it was a bad result.
“It’s sad but not surprising when Australia offers double or even triple the amount our nurses receive here,” she said.
“Nine is not going to be enough when you look at the number of New Zealand nurses going overseas.”
Nuku said 50 to 100 applications per month were needed to address chronic staff shortages and counter the number of nurses going overseas.
“We need to make nursing in Aotearoa attractive. Salary and working conditions need to improve.”
More nurses would be likely to apply if the profession were ranked at Tier One, as it would make it even easier to come to New Zealand, Nuku said.
Little said last month’s final tally wouldn’t be known until the end of August.
“I think nine have been processed, but applications opened on July 4 and applications have 20 working days to process,” he said.
Little said 7,000 foreign health workers had expressed interest in working in New Zealand, 3,200 of whom were nurses.
“Indications are that there are a growing number of applications and registrations of interest,” he said.
“It has never been easier for health workers to come to work in the health system in New Zealand.”
Until the end of July, nurses could still come to New Zealand on a critical use visitor visa, which was designed to keep key workers on arrival even if the border was closed.
Accent Health recruitment director Prudence Thomson said the number was disheartening at a time when the healthcare system was struggling to manage Covid-19, the flu and workforce shortages.
“They could actually almost go into one service,” she said.
Thomson said 120 residency applications per month was ideal, but there was a perception that nursing was not a recruitment priority because the profession was not ranked first.
“We absolutely need nurses at the top of the green list,” she said.
“We just need to let the nurses know that they are absolutely welcome in New Zealand, that we have the vacancies. There are incentives for them to come to New Zealand, but at the moment it is a bit confusing.”
Little was unaware of any move to raise nurses to Level 1 of the direct path to residency, he said.
“They’re greenlisted, they have the easiest route to residency they’ve ever had,” he said.
The Nurses Organization will continue its campaign for migrant nurses to be included in the entry-level visa pathway, Nuku said.
“Our organization has certainly raised this issue continuously and hopes to bring about change from the ministry.”
A number of attendees were forced to withdraw from the organization’s Indigenous Nurses Conference in Wellington due to staff shortages, furloughs were canceled and people were offered double time to cover shifts work, she said.