Only nine nurses applied to come to the country in the four weeks of a new residency visa, according to Employment Ministry figures released to RNZ.
Nurses said it was a fraction of the staff required, but Minister of Health Andrew Little said the proper July data would not be known until the end of this month because of a 20 working day processing period for applicants.
The new Immigration New Zealand list provides straight-to-residence and work-to-residence pathways for migrants in highly-skilled, hard-to-fill jobs.
Nurses were controversially excluded from the tier one fast-track stream, so unlike doctors, engineers and scientists, they can only apply for residency after working in New Zealand for two years.
Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment figures showed nine nurses had applied for the Green List visa by 28 July.
New Zealand Nurses Organisation kaiwhakahaere Kerri Nuku said it was a poor result.
“It’s sad but not surprising when you’ve got Australia offering double if not triple the amount that our nurses get back here,” she said.
“Nine isn’t going to cut it when we look at the amount of New Zealand nurses that are leaving to go overseas.”
Nuku said 50 to 100 applications per month were needed to address chronic staff shortages and counter the number of nurses going abroad.
“We have to make nursing in Aotearoa attractive. The pay and the working conditions need to improve.”
More nurses were likely to apply if the profession was categorised as tier one because it would make it even easier to come to New Zealand, Nuku said.
Little said last month’s final tally would not be known until the end of August.
“I think that is nine have been processed, but applications opened on 4 July and applications have a 20 working day timeframe to be processed,” he said.
Little said 7000 overseas health workers had expressed an interest in working in New Zealand, 3200 of whom were nurses.
“The indications are there are a growing number of applications and registrations of interest,” he said.
“It has never been easier for health workers to come and work in the health system in New Zealand.”
Until the end of July, nurses could still come to New Zealand on a Critical Purpose Visitor Visa, which was designed to keep key workers arriving even though the border was closed.
Accent Health Recruitment director Prudence Thomson said the number was disheartening at a time the health system was struggling to manage Covid-19, the flu and workforce shortages.
“They could actually almost go in one ward,” she said.
Thomson said 120 residency applications a month was ideal, but there was a perception nursing was not a recruitment priority because the profession was not listed in the top tier.
“We absolutely need nurses at the top of the Green List,” she said.
“We just have to educate nurses that they’re absolutely welcome into New Zealand, that we’ve got the vacancies. There are incentives for them to come to New Zealand, but at the moment it is a little bit confusing.”
Little was not aware of any moves to elevate nurses to the tier one straight-to-residence pathway, he said.
“They’re on the Green List, they have the easiest pathway to residency than they’ve ever had,” he said.
The Nurses Organisation would continue campaigning for the migrant nurses to be included in the top tier visa pathway, Nuku said.
“Our organisation certainly has been raising this as an issue continuously and hoping to provoke some change from the ministry.”
A number of attendees had been forced to withdraw from the organisation’s indigenous nurses’ conference in Wellington because of staff shortages, with leave cancelled and people offered double time to cover shifts, she said.