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.”