Parliamentary petition launched to get veterinarians into New Zealand

Wednesday 23 December 2020, 5:59PM
By Halo Biz

New Zealand is facing a dire veterinarian shortage.   This is a problem that’s been going on for years of which there’s no easy or fast fix.  However, border closures have exacerbated the problem.

Veterinary Talent Acquisition Specialist, Julie South, has decided enough is enough and last week launched a Parliamentary Petition to request how veterinarians are treated in relation to border exceptions, be changed.

Veterinarians have been on the New Zealand Government’s Long-Term Skills Shortage list for a very long time.  Given that such status and recognition aren't given out lightly by Immigration New Zealand (INZ), you’d think it would count for something during these very tough times. 

However, sadly, it appears to count for nothing. 

It carries no weight when INZ compares the request of a border exception for a veterinarian against say, a Netflix actor.   Almost 90 Netflix actors secured entry into New Zealand ahead of a Long-Term Skills Shortage List veterinarian applications.

As New Zealand enters the busy summer season, without sufficient veterinarians:

  • Animal welfare will definitely suffer;
  • The wellbeing of NZs extremely busy, stressed and burnt-out vets will only continue to be hit, at a time they should be able to enjoy some rest with loved ones; and
  • NZs production animal sectors (eg, beef, dairy, deer) could face economic harm if animals can’t be treated when they need to be.

The Government has made some promising noises, but far more still needs to be done.

Back in September 2020, the Government created a special classification for Mixed Animal Veterinarians (generally, those who work on-farm) whereby it granted 30 border exceptions. 

When asked how many of these 30 have entered NZ, INZ appears to be unsure exactly how many of those 30 exceptions have been allowed into the country.  However, it's believed to be just around 19 or so veterinarians.

And today (23 Dec 2020), there is industry talk that MPI has advised that MBIE and INZ now view the veterinary profession in New Zealand per:

“Veterinarians, not just specialist veterinarians, generally do meet the bar of having ‘unique experience and technical or specialist skills that are not readily obtainable in New Zealand’.”

It’s certainly good news that MBIE and INZ will start acknowledging this fact – although an official statement is still to be issued by MPI, MBIE and/or INZ.   

However, although this goes some way towards mitigating the current shortage of veterinarians in NZ, it’s nowhere near enough.

For months now, border exceptions have been required to meet a minimum threshold of employees earning at least twice that of the median wage – that is, veterinarians won’t be granted a border exception unless they’re offered a job paying more than $106,080 per annum.

Having a threshold this high will mean overseas veterinarians who’re either new graduates (who play an important role in New Zealand’s veterinary sector) or have fewer than about 8-10 years’ experience, will continue to be denied entry.

South has already had bone fide job offers to overseas-qualified veterinarians who met the New Zealand Veterinary Council's strict criteria but because their offers of employment were lower than the minimum $106,080 threshold, the much-needed veterinarian wasn't allowed entry into New Zealand and the clinic lost out.

South believes New Zealand desperately needs veterinarians of all skill levels, salary levels and disciplines.   The New Zealand Veterinary Association has identified a shortfall of 120 veterinarians, although South believes it is more like double that number.

In her day job, she’s speaking with veterinary clinics up and down the country and hears horror stories each week about the stress levels inside NZs veterinary clinics.

For example, she knows of veterinarians who have returned to work following cancer surgery because they’ve been unable to find a temp – a locum – to cover for them. 

If your mother, wife or daughter had to return to work immediately following breast cancer surgery, how would you feel?

If your father, husband, son had to return to work immediately following postate cancer surgery, how would you feel?

South believes that designating veterinarians as critical workers would reflect our country’s crucial need for them as skilled professionals to care for our animals – in the same way that we recognise the medical doctors who care for humans.

In the latest episode of South’s podcast Paws Claws & Wet Noses, she talks about why she’s petitioning the government for these changes and some of the causes and effects of the current veterinarian shortage in New Zealand.

South asks the animal-owning public sign and share her petition to urge the Government to reclassify vets as critical workers.