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Curbs on nurse migration have not had 'anticipated effect'


Tightening UK immigration restrictions for overseas nurses have not led to the planned benefits for their home countries, according to researchers.

Instead of joining the UK nursing workforce, they found overseas nurses from developing countries were finding other routes to migrate.  

The National Nursing Research Unit at King’s College London assessed the implications of changes in nurse migration for the UK and non European Union countries over the last five years.

The number of internationally trained nurses entering the UK declined sharply from 10,000-16,000 per year before 2005 to around 2,000-2,500 by the end of the last decade.

As well as falling demand, the researchers noted this is largely down to stricter regulatory and migration controls introduced in 2005. Some of these were “ethically motivated” such as the Department of Health’s ban on actively recruiting nurses from countries receiving UK aid.

But the NNRU researchers said such interventions had not resulted in improved retention of nurses in their home countries.

In Malawi, for example, they said nurses had found “alternative pathways to migration” by leaving nursing and taking on admin roles, and perceived the tightening up of UK regulations as “discriminatory”.

“Some nurses felt aggrieved that the doors of the UK that had previously been open to them, were now closed,” the researchers said.

In addition, they said new opportunities were opening up for developing world nurses in countries such as Hong Kong, South Africa, Jamaica and Japan. Meanwhile, they said the UK had become a “passive source country” for nurse recruitment by Australia.

The study authors said: “Tighter migration restrictions have caused a decline in nurses entering the UK workforce from non-EU countries. But this has not had the anticipated effect of improving source country retention, as increasingly nurses leave the profession to work outside of nursing.

“In other countries, such as the Philippines and India, nurses continue to migrate but are taking up employment in a new wave of destination countries,” they said.

The researchers predicted the UK would need to re-establish overseas recruitment to meet the likely increase in demand for nurses caused by an ageing population.

But they warn: “Tightening up of regulatory and migratory controls to the UK have compromised the ‘attractiveness’ of the UK as a destination for nurses, and there may be work to be done in the future to convince internationally trained nurses that they are welcome and needed in the UK.”


Readers' comments (4)

  • they are not welcome.

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  • First comment - and it's been precipitated for me by "Anonymous" above - is why contributors to a debate can't bring themselves to use their names ( real or pseudonymic as the case may be); in other words why don't they put their names where their input is? Comment - sensible or irrational or even irrelevant is not going to be visited by the wrath of the gods - is it?

    Second, if - as I infer - "Anonymous" really is talking about overseas nurses, why should they not be welcome - on what grounds? In an ideal world, every country would be able to provide for itself adequate workforce numbers such that movement to another country/hemisphere would not compromise the standard of healthcare (in terms of staffing levels) for the country concerned for it's population. But, we don't live in an ideal world - far from it!!

    Charity may begin at home in many contexts and in the context of a haemorrhage of nurses from an already-stretched country this is very much in point. BUT surely that has to be a matter for the country itself (if it can) to determine whether it is able to offer its own nurses a deal good enough to discourage emigration - rather than the U.K. (acting as the U.S.A. has historically acted in the past) trying to intermeddle (in this particular application) with another country's affairs.

    I welcome a continued influx of overseas nurses (always provided that the standard of training is commensurate c. what should be required and command of English is such that effective communication can be achieved c. patients and colleagues) but, at the same time, question whether sufficient numbers of nurses/students (complying c. the above two criteria) can't really be provided within Great Britain such that any draining from a country already sorely in need of trained healthcare givers can't be obviated.

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  • As a first year student i am indeed worried about suitable jobs being available for us when we qualify. However, i feel it is important to remember that nurses from the UK my want to work abroad so why not let nurses enter this country provided they have a job to come to.

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  • In response to Sharon, i do feel for her as jobs are being given to oversea's nurses instead of those who the NHS has spent thousands of pounds on training.

    New Grads should be given priority over any oversea's nurse, how are they to gain experience if they can't get a job?

    I ended up going to NZ to get a job when i qualified because i was unable to gain a job in the NHS after qualifying! I ended up on the dole until this opportunity became available!

    I dont regret anything from this however at the time i was very worried about emigrating and leaving family and friends back in the UK.

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