COVID-19: Nurses leaving New Zealand amid Omicron outbreak to try get spousal visas

As our health system prepares for an Omicron outbreak, some migrant healthcare workers are reluctantly packing up and leaving New Zealand.

Newshub's spoken with several nurses who are being forced to go offshore at this critical time in order to try and bring their spouses back here.

Monisha Murugan is one of them.

"We've been separated for a year now, we're newlyweds and I've been trying so hard to get a visa for him. He lives in India, he's an Indian citizen and I'm a New Zealand citizen," she tells Newshub.

They got married in India in December 2020 then she returned to New Zealand in January last year to start work.

"I've done everything I can for a whole year trying to get my husband here. I've been declined visas, I've kind of lost hope, lost faith."

Part of the problem is she hasn't lived with her husband long enough to prove to Immigration they're in a relationship.

In her culture, women don't live with their husbands until they're married.

She says her only option to try and bring him here is to return to India to live with him for at least three months and apply again.

"I really truly love my job and I don't want to leave, but if I want to be with my husband I have to leave," Murugan says.

She is in March when Omicron's expected to peak here.

Betsy Thomas has already returned to India for similar reasons. She's been separated from her husband for two-and-a-half years. They'll also try and get a visa after three months of living together.

"We are ready to come back especially during the pandemic. Please let us come back so that we can be a part of that, my residents at my rest home are waiting for me," she says.

With nurses leaving as the Omicron threat grows, there is concern patients will suffer.

"We have to ration our care which means we have to make decisions every moment that we're on duty to decide who goes without that care," says New Zealand Nurses Organisation president Anne Daniels.

The Government's being urged to scrap the living together requirement, at least for now.

"It doesn't make sense and it's not about getting things done and focusing on what we must focus on which is keeping New Zealanders safe. To have nurses go through this sham process and losing them is just not what we want," says National leader Christopher Luxon.

Daniels agrees.

"I don't think it's necessary," she says.

A spokesperson for Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi says there will always be the need to have criteria to establish that a relationship is stable and genuine, and that criteria is most likely always going to include a couple's history of living together.

It's criteria nurse Sumi Nand is trying to meet. She returned to Fiji to be with her spouse in November.

They've been living together for two-and-a-half months and applying for exemptions.

"All replies we got were living together requirements not met."

They're so desperate to return they've got flights and MIQ booked for next week.

"It's really frustrating and stressful."

That frustration is growing as the healthcare sector prepares for Omicron.