A new one-off residency pathway is welcome news to the nursing workforce, but more needs to be done to reunite migrants in New Zealand with their families overseas, says the Union.
New Zealand Nurses Organisation (NZNO) also said more work was needed in training and retaining home-grown nurses to properly address the gaps in the workforce.
Today Immigration minister Kris Faafoi announced a long-anticipated pathway for migrants working in New Zealand to access residency, after applications had backlogged for more than a year due to Covid-19.
NZNO Industrial services Manager Glenda Alexander wrote to Immigration minister Kris Faafoi earlier this month about a residency pathway for internationally qualified nurses, which make up a large proportion of the healthcare workforce.
She said two of their three requests seemed to have been addressed by the new 2021 residency visa and would provide some much needed certainty for many nurses who trained overseas.
"A lot of nurses that have come here on temporary visas have been in a situation where they've had no certainty for what was going to happen for them," she said.
"We asked that Immigration NZ opens up Expressions of Interest for the Skilled Migrant Category, and that they place all application by health workers into the priority queue."
"It seems like the pathway announced is going to go some way to addressing those things. It was pretty pleasing overall really."
While partners and dependents could be included in the application if already in New Zealand, she said more needed to be done to reunite migrants in New Zealand with their families still overseas.
"We've got a situation where we've got some of our internationally qualified nurses who are here but their families can't be joining them. That was also an issue we raised with the Minister."
"What we'd like to see is pathways opened up into the country for more internationally qualified nursing staff who want to live here permanently, and for the same opportunity to be extended to their families."
"We are critically short of nurses at a time when we need them most, and it is unfair and counter-productive that they be required to work here while isolated and without support from close family."
She said the residency pathway would go some way towards addressing New Zealand's nursing shortage but it was "part of a bigger puzzle" that involved improving wages and working conditions, as well as growing and retaining more Kiwi-trained nurses.
"Our workforce shortages are a real problem for us in the country, because we do have an over-reliance on the international workforce to supplement our workforce," Alexander said.
"We do need to address our own workforce here – grow our own and encourage more people to go into nursing."
"If you have a choice to come to New Zealand or even stay in New Zealand, or go to Australia, the wages are much better there."
Part of encouraging and retaining home-grown nurses would come from improving wages and working conditions, factors which have driven the union to industrial action earlier this year.
NZNO is currently discussing an offer made by the DHB which aims to address issues of pay equity and staffing.