An Ōtaki doctor wanting to make Aotearoa home frustrated by immigration delays

By Whatitiri Te Wake

Dr Harding Richards has been working at the Ōtaki Medical Centre for over a year and is passionate about getting better health outcomes for Māori.

“The community has been welcoming to me as a new doctor coming in to the area. I found that because a lot of those gaps and health outcomes between Māori and non-Māori there is a lot of work to be done” he said.

But Covid-19 has put a halt to permanent residency applications and Richards is frustrated by the process 

"Really we're just stuck in the first phase of trying to get residency, which is what we need to be able to actually put down roots and settle in New Zealand."

He says a residency update was expected in October, deferred to March, but nothing has happened.

“It means there are lot more barriers if I wanted to go and visit family back in the UK. As a resident  I would be able to go to the UK, come back and pay my $3,000 dollar for managed isolation to do quarantine and come back to work. As a non-resident, if I go overseas, I’ll need to get a special exemption,” he said.

Hapū concerns

The local hapū see the postive impact he has on the community. Barbara Rudd of Ngāti Raukawa says the lack of GPs in the community is concerning.

“Having GPs who can work within our Māori community is important for us. Especially this doctor, he is showing us that he would be. So to retain him in our Ōtaki community is vital.”

Otaki Medical chief executive Kiwa Raureti paints a more worrying picture for the overall health of this communty.

“The response to him leaving has been met with dismay. Understand that we are the only general practice in town and that access to health care is determined by provider availability.”

With no certainty of making Aotearoa his home, the fight continues for this small town doctor, wanting to make a change.

In a statement, Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi says the government is “working through the detail” of how and when a review of the skilled migrant and resident and work categories will happen.

"With regards to applications, like those from doctors and other medical staff, which meet priority criteria, I am advised by Immigration NZ that such applications are allocated to an immigration officer within two weeks of being received."