Foreign veterinarians will be fast-tracked into Australia amid a shortage of vets that the COVID-19 pandemic has worsened.
Australian Immigration Minister Alex Hawke confirmed on Saturday that vets would be added to the Priority Migration Skilled Occupation List, which will allow them to enter Australia.
At least 800 more veterinarians are needed nationwide to fill the gap caused by the puppy boom during the pandemic, according to Warwick Vale, the Australian Veterinary Association president.
While Dr Vale welcomed the new policy change, he said there are deeper problems that had long been existing in the veterinary industry, such as low pay, overstress, and the depressing nature of the job itself.
“When you couple that with a very acute shortage in the workforce, you end up with a huge problem,” Vale told The Sydney Morning Herald.
“It’s been a long-standing problem in-country and regional areas, but since the COVID pressure, it has really come to the cities in a big way. We’ve got vets that are leaving the workforce in droves,” he said.
Margaret Riley, the Head of Veterinary Science at James Cook University, said compassion fatigue is the main reason why vets leave the industry.
“You see these things day in day out, and it does take its toll on you,” Dr Riley told ABC, adding that there is a lot of “emotional blackmail” from people who expect the vets to do their work for free.
“Unfortunately, clinics are businesses. As a business owner myself, I understand how slim the profit margins are,” she said.
The Federal Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment said it has already met with the Australian Veterinary Association to seek ways to support vets to work in regional areas.
“The Government continues to monitor the impact of COVID-19 on the Australian labour market and assess Australia’s skills needs as they evolve,” a department spokesperson told ABC.
The Priority Migration Skilled Occupation List is based on expert advice from the National Skills Commission and consultation with Commonwealth departments.
The list currently has 18 occupations that “fill critical skills needs to support Australia’s economic recovery from COVID-19,” including chief executives, mechanical engineers, software engineers, social workers, GPs, psychiatrists, midwives, and several types of nurses.
According to the Australian Government’s website, the list is temporary, and priority occupations may change as Australia recovers from the pandemic.