Open Letter to Prime Minister Ardern re Immigration NZ border exemption confusion

Monday 30 November 2020, 11:26AM
By Halo Biz

Open Letter to Prime Minister + Minister Faafoi + Ms Stanford, MP



I’m writing this Open Letter with the hope you’ll be able to answer my questions because it appears no one else in your government is able to.  


There are quite a few questions in this letter, so to make it easy for you, I’ve bolded them. I’ve also provided some background information to give you context.


I’m hoping you can help me because my colleagues and I are struggling to understand the rationale applied by Immigration New Zealand (INZ) in recent border exemption denials for the health care workers I specialise in finding jobs for.


I’m a specialist veterinarian recruiter – veterinarians are health care professionals (animal doctors) who save the lives of their patients every day.   Just to confirm, your government also recognises veterinarians as health care workers, per:    


“Veterinarians treat sick and injured animals, provide general animal care, and advise about health care and disease prevention for pets and farm (production) animals.” [emphasis added] 27/11/2020



Veterinarians are an endangered species in Aotearoa New Zealand – they are (still) on this country’s Long Term Skills Shortage List. 


During Alert Level 4 Lockdown veterinarians were deemed Essential Workers - presumably because the government realised that they, like their human doctor counterparts, saved lives.  Every day.


However, somehow, regardless that veterinarians are still on the Long Term Skills Shortage List (which, I realise, is irrelevant while our borders are closed) and regardless of the fact they continue to save lives every day and regardless of the fact that your government still recognises they are involved in health care and disease prevention, they are not recognised as critical health workers.


Why is that?


Why was my client denied permission to employ (because that’s what effectively has happened) a very highly skilled emergency and critical care doctor (one who wants – and is happy – to work the night shift) at his after-hours emergency and critical care hospital?  


My client has been advertising for close to two years trying to fill this night shift vacancy.   Not only are veterinarians with such skills even more scarce than regular general practice veterinarians, but ones who want to permanently work nights are a very rare species.


The doctor my client offered a bone fide Offer of Employment to had 10 years’ experience working in emergency and critical care in the UK.    She is one of just 48 emergency and critical care doctors with her post-graduate qualifications in Great Britain.   


Both the employee and the employer met every criteria required by INZ. 


To put this doctor’s post-graduate qualifications into perspective, she is one of just 48 out of (approximately) 28,900 veterinarians in the United Kingdom with these qualifications.    


Apparently, INZ does not believe her skills are special enough. 


So please – help me understand how INZ is “still not satisfied that the employee’s skills and experience are not readily obtainable in New Zealand” (quoted from INZ’s decline email of my client’s application for border exemption).


I don’t understand how this is so, when she is already in the minority with her skills and experience in the United Kingdom, how can her experience be so readily available in New Zealand when we don’t even teach her post-graduate qualifications here, nor do we have anything similar.


Of course, the answer is, her skills are not readily available here otherwise my client wouldn’t have struggled for the last two years with his recruitment.  At times he had to close his hospital because neither he nor I were able to find locums available to work.  He, himself, stepped in and worked, but as you can appreciate, that’s not sustainable.


Because his doctors save lives every day they go to work, it’s therefore logical to assume that when either of us were unable to staff his hospital lives were lost on those nights.


Further, please help me understand why veterinary health care workers haven’t joined their human doctor counterparts in being classified as a critical worker even though they were deemed to provide essential services during Alert Level 4.


I wanted to be able to direct you to your government’s official reference that veterinarians were deemed an essential service at AL4, but there’s no longer any Alert Level 4 information available on the official Covid-19 website.   Why is that?


It would be nice if you could answer that question as well, please.  Thank you.


Prime Minister, I would like to invite you to join me in visiting a couple of veterinary hospitals so that you can hear first-hand what it’s like for the amazing, dedicated, hard working and totally stressed out professionals working on the front line.


I would like you to hear first-hand how they’re not sleeping at night.  How they’re so totally stressed out that sometimes they can’t even form coherent sentences.  How their spouses and families are concerned for their physical and mental health.  Prime Minister, these professionals need a break. 


Every day, like their human doctor counterparts, they’re saving their patients’ lives. 


Emergency and critical care veterinarians go to work not knowing what’s going to walk (or crawl) through their doors.  Unlike general practice veterinary clinics where appointments are made, emergency and critical care surgeons have absolutely no idea what they’re going to be required to do that shift.


They have no idea whether they’re going to be able to dedicate their skills to one animal at a time or be required to multitask and endeavour to save the lives of many patients simultaneously.   Will they be required to save a patient that’ been in a motor vehicle accident? A drug overdose? A gunshot wound?  (yes, even in New Zealand!)   A hit and run?  A stabbing?  A house fire?  Or a medical emergency? 


If all of that sounds a bit dramatic, it’s because it is!  These highly skilled animal doctors work at the front line just like their human counterparts in the ER / ED wards of human hospitals.


The stressors emergency and critical care veterinarians face are huge.  And they’re taking a toll.


Now it’s definitely time to start saving their lives (because, tragically, there are already fewer veterinarians alive today than there were on 21 March 2020 when you announced on New Zealand was going into AL4 Lockdown).


I invite you to join me in discovering what it’s like working at the front line for these critical health care workers so that together, we can start saving their marriages, their relationships, their health, their lives.


I look forward to hearing when you’re able to join me.  I will travel anywhere in New Zealand that works for you because I know it doesn’t matter which hospital we visit, you’ll witness the stresses and stressors I’m referring to – in any hospital from Cape Reinga to the Bluff and everywhere in between.


Prime Minster Ardern, thank you.


Yours very sincerely


Julie South

Veterinary Recruitment

  & Management Consultant

VetStaff Limited