Coronavirus: Veterinarians beg for visa exemptions amid worker shortage

Veterinarians have added their voice to the chorus of sectors begging for more foreign workers to be allowed into the country.

The industry is facing a shortfall of around 200 workers, and there are concerns the shortage could have serious consequences for the country's agriculture sector.

Kevin Bryant, chief executive of the New Zealand Veterinary Association (NZVA), says despite the primary sector "effectively propping up the economy at the moment" the Government seems to have overlooked the importance of vets.

"We've got serious concerns in a number of fields," Bryant told Dominic George on Magic Talk's Rural Today on Friday.

"Firstly as far as our members are concerned we're very concerned about their mental health and wellbeing, as people are working 24/7 trying to support their clients and they're just underpowered to do so through shortages," he said.

"We're really concerned about farmer wellbeing and mental health, in terms of the stress that gets caused if they can't access vets to get the appropriate support and advice that they're looking for."

He also said he was worried about the country's reputation internationally, "in terms of the impact on production, on quality, on biosecurity, on food safety".

"There's some serious issues looming if we don't address this."

Bryant said according to a recent survey there was a shortage of around 200 vets across the country, with most of those positions normally filled by overseas workers.

"We've got a situation where a number of these people were actually working in New Zealand prior to COVID but went home when COVID hit and can't get back. Another bunch have signed contracts to come to New Zealand and work and they haven't been allowed in. And in others there's been specialists who we just don't have enough of in some areas around New Zealand who are required to do all the central roles in that space."

He said although the Ministry for Primary Industries had been working hard to support the industry,  "unfortunately we're just not getting the traction we need at anything like the speed we need".

"We need MBIE [The Ministry for Business, Innovation and Employment] to increase the speed of their processing of applications and we need more vets allowed into the country," he said.

"Things are getting somewhat desperate."

On Thursday the Government announced changes to its border exemptions allowing some temporary work visa holders who had strong links to New Zealand to return. 

More adjustments were made on Friday around the assessment criteria for "other critical workers".

"Currently, an individual must have unique experience and technical or specialist skills that are 'not obtainable' in New Zealand," Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi said.

"This criterion will change to technical or specialist skills that are not 'readily obtainable' in New Zealand. 

"That wording change reflects that, in some fields, there is a very limited pool of experts and significant training would have to be undertaken before the skills were obtainable in New Zealand."