New Zealand risks exodus of critical migrant healthcare workers due to immigration anomaly

New Zealand risks facing an exodus of critical migrant healthcare workers in the midst of a global pandemic because of an immigration anomaly.

Newshub has spoken to registered nurses who haven't been able to see their babies and children for over a year. It's forcing them to leave the country when we need them most. 

"Frankly speaking, it's really hard - every day I struggle to cope with the situation," says aged care nurse Priyanka Sunny, whose seven-year-old son is terrified he won't see his mother again. 

Sunny said she wants to tell her son "I'm here, your mum is here to give you all the support" - but can't.

In April, neo-natal intensive care nurse Pretty Abraham will miss her daughter Aksa's fifth birthday.

"It's so sad sometimes. It's so hard to hear when she says she misses me playing with her and sometimes she cries at night," Abraham told Newshub.

Migrant healthcare workers can usually apply for visas for their families once they get a job in New Zealand. But these women moved here before the lockdown - and then the borders were shut.

"Always my children are telling me 'mama I want to see you, mama I want to see you', especially my younger one," says aged care nurse Tudy Sebastian.

Orthopaedic nurse Sony Thomas says: "He needs his mother, every day he will send me a voice message saying 'ma I miss you', which hurts me a lot."

It's massively inconsistent because critical workers who come to New Zealand now, post-lockdown, can bring their families.

"This is a heart-breaking anomaly and it's not one that's very difficult to fix," says National MP Erica Stanford. "We're talking about a couple-hundred nurses who should be able to be reunited with their families."

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says if there are particular visa categories or classes getting caught in the middle of those issues, she'd "want to know about that".

New Zealand needs these workers. Radius Care is one of the biggest aged care providers in the country and 30 percent of its workforce is migrants who have come to a new country and a new job with zero family support.

"It's hugely important, we want them to stay," says Radius Care managing director Brien Cree. "I feel we don't treat them very well - we don't treat them as though we want them here, because we need them here."

But their families can't get visas and can't get border exemptions - unlike the America's Cup crews, The Wiggles, the Avatar film crew and a nanny for film star Kirsten Dunst.

"Yes, health workers are not entertaining, they're not celebrities, they're not making us laugh, but they are here to help, to cure us, to keep us alive," says immigration lawyer Arran Hunt. 

He believes over 1000 people could be caught in this situation.

"I really lose my hope," says Sony Thomas. 

"No hope actually, and I feel really depressed," says Priyanka Sunny. "I'm really going through a traumatic situation."

Newshub asked the Prime Minister if she will make a commitment to helping reunite these critical workers' families.

"I am interested in how they've fallen through the existing extension that we've already worked on, why it is that they are not covered by that," Ardern said, offering a glimmer of hope.

Newshub has been told Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi has asked for advice about how to fix it.

The inconsistencies are compounded by stories like Green MP Ricardo Menéndez March applying for special treatment twice - once as a critical worker, then because he was required for national security.

He also successfully applied for a visa for his partner post-lockdown.