New Zealand is struggling to attract and keep skilled migrants, and it's hurting the country as it tries to rebound from Covid-19, National's immigration spokesperson says.
Erica Stanford told Q+A host Jack Tame that migration plays a "critical factor" in New Zealand's economic recovery from the pandemic, but that the Government's recent immigration policies aren't helping.
She said that was evident in New Zealand's net migration loss which was causing staff shortages in a number of sectors, such as hospitality and health.
Stats NZ data estimated a net migration loss of about 8700 in the year leading up to April. Of that figure, there was a loss of 8900 non-citizens, and part of it was offset by a net gain of 200 New Zealand citizens.
Stats NZ said New Zealand had seen high numbers of migrants arriving between late 2019 and early 2020. It said many of those travellers chose to prolong their stay in New Zealand because of the pandemic.
Stanford said the numbers were "very shocking" but they weren't a surprise because "we've treated them so poorly". As an example, she pointed to the Government's immigration changes in May that streamlined specific jobs with pathways to residency.
The nurse's union criticised the changes because the Government required nurses to be in New Zealand for two years before being eligible to apply for residency in contrast to doctors, scientists and engineers who were on a "straight to residence" pathway.
At the same time, nurses in the country said they were understaffed and overworked. More recently, after the death of a patient who left Middlemore Hospital's ED because of long wait times, nurses warned more people could die if staff shortages weren't urgently fixed.
Then-Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi said last month the requirement was placed on nurses because it would mean they would have to stay with the same employer for at least two years, and that the sector had asked for it.
But Stanford told Q+A Faafoi might have gotten mixed up because the actual issue was that nurses were switching between working in aged care and DHBs.
It was the aged care sector that raised the issue of retention, she said.
Stanford said, if National was in power, they would have just used a specific section of the Immigration Act to attach requirements to residency, instead of making nurses wait two years.
Because of the hurdles the likes of nurses had to face, they would likely look overseas than stay in New Zealand, she added.
"Every country in the world is after those same amazingly talented migrants. We are not putting ourselves in a position to be able to compete with the likes of Australia, Canada, the US, the UK to attract the best talent."
Under National, all healthcare workers would have a fast-track option to residency, she said.