'Stressed' vets desperate for help from foreign workers

According to the Veterinary Association, the workforce is short of more than 200 workers.
According to the Veterinary Association, the workforce is short of more than 200 workers. Photo credit: File / Getty

By Charlie Dreaver of RNZ

The Government says there are no plans to change the number of border exemptions for vets despite pleas from the Veterinary Association that vets are burning out and animal welfare is at stake.

Last month, the minister announced that up to 30 class border exemptions would be granted to fill the gap of livestock veterinarians.

But according to the Veterinary Association, the workforce is short of more than 200 workers.

Its chief executive, Kevin Bryant, said so far no new vets had arrived under the class border exemption- something he had found very frustrating.

"Large numbers of Russian fishermen [are] getting here apparently very quickly. I would have thought that supporting our veterinarians who are severely under-resourced, under immense stress and working seven days a week and have been for weeks and weeks, I would have thought that would have been equally important," he said.

Bryant said 30 places was a start, but it was not enough.

"The hole is still there and what is happening is the welfare of our veterinarians and the welfare of the animals that they are trying to treat is suffering really badly, so we really need to increase the number of places made available and there needs to be a ramping up of the time it takes to process applications," he said.

Totally Vets chief executive Chris Carter said there were 10 upcoming staff vacancies among their seven lower North Island clinics.

They've managed to fill half the positions with new graduates.

"Massey's graduate level is around a hundred vets per annum, so it doesn't take too much to see there is going to be a problem, and we have relied for many years on vets coming in from offshore."

Carter said they had tried to get a visa for a specialist vet in Singapore, but that application had so far been unsuccessful.

Workers were doing fine for now, but he said that could change.

"Over the next two, three months it will really start to bite for us," he said.

The skill shortage is a worry for Federated Farmers' Meat & Wool chair William Beetham especially coming into summer.

"As animal production increases and areas become more under pressure with the warmth and the rain, diseases can become an issue. We can have an issue with parasites and animals and things like that, which often vet advice is sought for.

"Those are the times we really need the knowledge available to our rural communities to help," he said.

11 vets told to apply for visas

In a response, Immigration New Zealand said it had received requests for a border exception for 11 veterinarians under the class border exception, all of whom have been invited to apply for a visa.

Of the 11 that have been invited to apply, eight have applied for a visa. "Decisions on these applications are expected before the end of the week," it said.

INZ said it had been clear that visa applications for critical workers usually took about two weeks to be processed from the date the application was received.

It added it has also been working with the Ministry for Primary Industries, who provide the names of veterinarians to be considered for a class border exemption.

Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi said there was no plan at this stage to change the number of exemptions for veterinarians.

However, INZ said individual employers are able to request a border exception for veterinarians through the 'other critical worker' category and some specialist veterinarians have been approved this way.