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Vital pathway for thousands of Filipino nurses coming to NZ for work in doubt

A vital pathway for thousands of Filipino nurses coming to New Zealand for work is in doubt, putting their livelihoods and our overburdened healthcare system at risk. 

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An advisory from the Filipino embassy has put the nurses’ livelihoods and New Zealand’s healthcare system at risk. Source: 1 NEWS

The Philippine government is cracking down on the system that sees its nurses come here for a competency course - with no guarantee of a job at the end of it. 

Its New Zealand embassy is issuing an advisory for nurses in the Philippines against the pathway and advised training providers to stop recruiting Filipino nurses. 

“The Philippine Embassy has been tasked to negotiate an agreement with the New Zealand Government on CAP (competency assessment programme) and other nursing concerns.” 

The latest Nursing Council annual report shows there were 1108 Filipino nurses who arrived here in the last financial year - the greatest single ethnicity of foreign-trained nurses. 

The Philippine is followed by India at 923, United Kingdom with 266, Australia’s 194, and 53 from the United States. 

Melody Opanes-Kircher is a nurse who came to New Zealand via this pathway.

“I have been valued, there are heaps of us in our unit, charge nurses are happy to see us, we are very resilient and we came from a country where there are also very busy places.” 

She says the recent changes have been triggered by what she believes is a desire on the part of the Philippine government to see its nurses offered greater recognition, with a bilateral agreement that would see nurses guaranteed a job before leaving the country. 

“With this one [pathway to NZ] it is very high risk, although lots of Filipino nurses pass the registration and get jobs,” she said.

It’s understood from officials who declined to be interviewed on camera that there are concerns in Manila that the current lack of a job guarantee could open its nurses up to exploitation. 

Their fear is that it could become a pathway for human trafficking that would see their citizens working for low wages in poor conditions. 

In a statement, New Zealand’s Foreign Ministry says it’s working to address any concerns about the programme with Philippine officials. 

1 NEWS understands the Philippine Ambassador will be meeting with the ministry next week to discuss the possibility of a formal agreement that would guarantee nurses a job before they arrive. 

In February, at least eight Filipino nurses were offloaded a plane bound for New Zealand, despite having the necessary paperwork. 1 NEWS understands they have since been given special dispensation to arrive here.

However, New Zealand Nurses Organisation (NZNO) member Monina Hernandez has questioned the timing behind the offloading of the nurses and the embassy’s advisory, when the programme has been running smoothly for years. 

“They know very well that a lot of us have come here over the years,” she said. 

Recently, the Philippine government offered to increase its supply of nurses to Germany and the United Kingdom in exchange for 600,000 doses of Covid-19 vaccines.  

“The Philippine government is trying to gain leverage in terms of vaccines ... but if that’s what they want to happen, it’s a dirty move, it’s not right, they are violating Filipino’s rights,” Hernandez said. 

She says if the Philippines wants to end human trafficking it needs to tackle the issues in country.  

“The reason of course why I think those Filipino nurses want to leave the country is because of poverty,” she said.

“This advisory is a violation of the rights of Filipino nurses to go where they want to go.” 

If a resolution isn’t reached, any potential loss of nurses coming to New Zealand could add to the woes of our health system, which doctors have recently described as being in “crisis”. 

For now, dozens of Filipino nurses are caught up in the political crossfire...waiting in the Philippines for word they’ll be allowed to fly. 

Samantha Yniguez has been waiting two years to get to New Zealand, with latest advisory putting her plans to come to Aotearoa in June this year at risk. 

“I’m completely crushed,” she said.

While she agrees with the push for a bilateral agreement, she’s calling on the authorities to allow those like her, who are already well into the process, to proceed. 

“Give us some consideration because we invested so much in this financially and of course our time.” 

The ER nurse hoped to come to New Zealand to earn a more stable wage for herself, and her family, while bringing her wealth of knowledge into our health system. 

The poor working conditions in the Philippines have put her dreams of having a family of her own on hold. 

“I couldn’t even start a family, with my meagre salary,” she said. “It only provides for myself, my salary isn’t enough to support my siblings or my parents who are already seniors.” 

For Marion Mesina, the advisory has put him in a difficult position with no job, but a huge debt to his family and friends who’d invested in his dream to come to NZ. 

“Hearing this issue is heart-breaking, not only for me but also for those who helped me.” 

The nurse, who has five years of theatre experience, resigned from his previous role, expecting he’d soon be in New Zealand. 

“I don’t have a source of income to provide for my family, I just have people who are helping us at the moment.” 

It is a similar story for Clarissa Talavera who gave up a job in the Middle East after 10 years, to follow her dreams in New Zealand. 

“We invested money, we invested time, also we invested our hopes.” 

Hopes that may not come to fruition, if an agreement can’t be reached by the two nations.