Nursing migration: issues of equity and balance.

Author:Blake, Nicholas
Position:Australian Nursing Federation - Report

The author is the senior federal industrial officer of the Australian Nursing Federation. In this article he examines aspects of the experiences of migrant nurses--both permanent and temporary--in Australia. He also considers the impact of Australia's recruitment drive on the health-care services of less-developed sending countries.

'Health workers have a clear human right to emigrate in search of a better life. Yet people in source countries hard hit by the exodus of health workers also have a right to health in their own countries', Mary Robinson former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.


A wealth of culture and knowledge travels on the backs of international workers, and nurses are no exception. Australia benefits in a myriad of ways when the workforce is propped up by immigration. However there are a number of issues that must be addressed regarding both the rights of the international workers once they arrive and also our responsibility to the people in the countries they have left behind.

The international recruitment of nurses stands in the nexus between an individual's rights to maximise their personal potential and professional outcomes, and the developed world's responsibilities as part of a global community. If the developed world is to accept its responsibilities, it will need to find a way to both recruit from the developing world and replace the human resources it is taking.

Since early 2000 the Australian Nursing Federation (ANF) has increasingly been involved in issues around the permanent and temporary migration of nurses. Our union has generally favoured permanent migration and, where this was not possible, ethical recruitment and fair treatment of nurses working in Australia on a temporary basis.

The ANF has always supported the movement of nurses around the globe to gain further training and different clinical experiences. Health care has a strong tradition of international collaboration. There is also clear merit in international exchange and diversity, as well as the economic benefit of remittances and transfers in technologies.

We, at the ANF, recognise that in many cases the motivation of nurses to work in other countries is linked to increased and improved employment opportunities: higher salaries, better working conditions and enhanced capacity for career advancement. And, increasingly, an important deciding factor is the opportunity for them and their families to work and live in a safer and more economically prosperous environment as permanent residents.

In the past our approach has been insular and limited with nearly all of our attention and efforts going to ensuring that once nurses arrive to work in Australia they are fairly treated. This has included a focus upon specific immigration rules relating to their recruitment and the mainstream industrial relations (IR) system's treatment of these nurses. There is a growing awareness in our union and the labour movement generally that we cannot ignore the fact that our domestic actions have international ramifications.

This paper looks at some of my union's experiences of the treatment of temporary and permanent migrant nurses in Australia. It also examines the impact of offshore recruitment, particularly in our region.


There is an international shortage of nurses and other health professionals with many developed countries, including Australia, scanning the globe for potential employees. It is estimated that at present there is a shortage of around 25,000 nurses and mid-wives in Australia although it is interesting to note that, in 2007, around 27,500 local nurses remained registered but were not employed in the nursing workforce. (1)

To address this unmet demand Australian employers aggressively recruit permanent and temporary nursing labour from around the globe, in particular from the UK, China and other parts of Asia, Africa and within the Pacific region.

In 2008-2009, 3,850 registered nurses were granted 457 temporary worker visas (2) and 3,355 permanent visas were granted to registered nurses through Australia's skilled permanent migration program. (3)

Australia has a very active temporary skilled migration program, granting 50,660 457 visas to applicants and their families in 2008-2009. (4) It is interesting to note that this scheme is demand-driven and uncapped, with employers principally deciding who and how many people they wish to bring into the country and employ.

It does remind one of that infamous...

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