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New Overseas Nurses Programme and Home Office Update | Immigration Matters

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From 1 September 2005, overseas (non EEA members) trained nurses seeking UK registration, will have to go through the new Overseas Nurses Programme (ONP). The program has common entry standards, a compulsory 20-day period of protected learning for all nurses trained outside the European Economic Area (EEA) and, where appropriate, a period of supervised practice. In addition applicants will also have to undertake the English language test (IELTS) and achieve an overall mark of 6.5.

With the system tightening up, many nursing homes currently providing “adaptation training” for overseas nurses have decided to drop out of the programme. This is not encouraging news for the estimated 37000 nurses in the UK seeking a place, as well as the thousands of hopeful applicants who hand over their £140 application fee to the NMC each year. So what are the alternative routes into the UK? As I mention in our book “How to Come to The UK to Live Work Study or Visit”, there are many roads leading to the same destination.


The most obvious route for nurses unable to find a place for adaptation training or supervised practice has been to come to the UK to work as a Senior Carer in a Nursing Home. The advantages are that you are not restricted by the need to find a Nursing Home accredited by the NMC to run supervised placements (which are in short supply) and you can usually find employment in the UK much faster. Many nurses have been prepared to accept the lower paid Senior Carer role (Senior Carers earn around £5.75 per hour compared to a qualified nurse making at least £9.00 per hour), as they saw it as a stepping stone into nursing. Once in the UK they are better placed to seek out Nursing Homes or Hospitals offering training places and thousands of Filipino nurses have successfully made the transition.

For instance Celerina came to the UK from Saudi Arabia in 2003 to work as a Senior Carer in a Nursing Home with the help of Bison Management UK. “The work was hard and the pay not so good” she recalls “but I learned a lot and stuck with it”. Bison Management assisted the Nursing Home with their NMC accreditation and was then able to put her through the adaptation training. She now has her NMC PIN and her salary and job satisfaction has doubled. Bison is currently helping her apply for her Husband join her as a dependant. Celerina is so glad she took her chances and came in to the UK as a Senior Carer. “If I hadn’t applied to Bison UK as a Senior Care Worker I’d still be in Saudi on my own. Now I am happy here and my Husband can join me”.

There are of course some disadvantages to trying to come in as a Senior Carer, e.g. lower pay, and not everyone will have the appropriate experience required to obtain a work permit from the Home Office. As Senior Carers are not on the “shortage occupation” list work permits are actually harder to obtain. The employer must demonstrate that a suitable qualified worker from within the EU cannot be found to fill the vacancy. Furthermore, although a nurse may be in many respects over qualified for the job, they still have to prove that they possess the necessary skills and experience to do the job of a Senior Carer.

Since the expansion of the EU in 2004 employers have been able to employ care workers from the new EU members such as Poland and Lithuania without the need to apply for a work permit. Figures published recently showed that between May 2004 and June 30 this year there were 232,000 applicants for work under the special Workers Registration Scheme with over 130000 coming from Poland alone. Most of the workers have gone into catering jobs (hence the ending of the SBS Hospitality scheme in July – see Immigration Matters article in MIZMO August 2005) but over 5500 have taken jobs as Care Assistants. Good news for employers perhaps, but no so good for applicants from The Philippines, China or India.


Thousands of nurses, fed up with waiting for an adaptation place, are now choosing to come to the UK as a student and study for an NVQ4 qualification and Registered Managers Award (RMA). These management qualifications can lead to employment as a Registered Manager in the care industry, which usually attracts a higher salary than a nurse.

The NVQ (National Vocational Qualification) and RMA courses offer a combination of theoretical and practical learning, which includes vocational work carried out in a nursing or care home setting. You will need a work placement so you can be assessed during the course.

A number of nurses have approached Overseas Consultancy Services (OCS) to arrange student visas for NVQ and other courses. OCS will shortly be announcing a “Student Programme” pilot scheme to be run in conjunction with a number of colleges in the London area. As well as arranging the course enrolment and student visa OCS will also organise work placements through their extensive network of nursing home clients. For further details contact OCS or check their website


Charles Kelly with Tony McNulty, Immigration Minister

At a Home Office briefing for Immigration Advisers and leading employers in London this week Tony McNulty, Minister for Immigration Citizenship and Nationality called for a “grown up debate” on immigration and a “balanced migration policy”. He went on to outline the aims of the government’s review (announced 19th July 2005), which are to provide “clarity and transparency” and stress that they are part of a “public consultation” and not set in stone.

Representatives from the TUC and CBI joined the Minister on the platform to announce an historic joint statement on immigration. In a statement from the Home Office, the government said the UK needed the skills and enthusiasm of people from around the world “now more than ever”.

In a heated question and answer session several members of the audience voiced their concerns over the government’s proposals including plans to remove the right of appeal against visa refusals, Tony McNulty said that he was “very comfortable with no right of appeal as nobody has the absolute right to come to this country to work or study”.

Immigration Matters View

The proposed new rules are designed to encourage higher skilled migrants such as Doctors, and Science graduates, but discourage workers from outside the EU not deemed to be “highly skilled” for instance Senior Carers seeking work in the care sector or Chefs and Waiters in the catering industry.

Whilst every country in the world wants to attract the top talent and graduates, we must not forget that employers in industries such as the care sector are still finding it difficult to attract and retain workers willing do the ordinary but equally important jobs like caring for the elderly.

Our advice to employers and applicants is simple. Anyone wishing to employ a Senior Carer from outside the EU or extend the work permit of an existing worker should apply as soon as possible. Cynthia Barker of Bison Management UK, a leading provider of staff to the healthcare industry, was also present at the meeting and voiced concerns. She said: “an employer could find themselves in the unfortunate situation where, due to changes in the rules, they can no longer employ a Senior Carer who has worked with them for two or three years, which would be devastating news for the employer but especially the worker who may have to leave the UK” .

Certain categories of lower skilled migrants may also find it difficult to obtain indefinite leave to remain (permanent residency) after working in the UK for four years or more and we would urge anyone who may fall into this group to “buy now while stocks last”. The details of the proposed new points based scheme and overhaul of the work permits system were covered in the August edition of MIZMO and will be published on

Have your say…

This is only a consultation document and we still have time to make our views heard by the government. We urge you to respond to the consultation document, which comes in the form of a booklet with a comments section at the back. If you have views on the subject now is the time to make them count, as there will be no use complaining after the event. The full document is available on You can also write to your local MP or Tony McNulty at the Home Office. Alternatively, you can email your views to OCS which will be passed on to the Minister. Email comments to:

If you should have any questions concerning the above please send an email to, visit or call 0870 041 4658.

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6 Responses to “New Overseas Nurses Programme and Home Office Update”
Read them below or add one

  1. HI, I name is Olga.I am looking for advice.
    I am British Citizen, working as Senior Carer,been living in UK 5 years.However,I trained as a nurse in Belarus,which is no EU country.I sat my IELTS 4 times and my last score is 6.5 overall(L-7,R-6,W-6,S-7).
    I attend Intensive course at Uni and did well at advance level.
    I rang NMC to find out if I am British Citizen Why I can’t register as a Nurse on the same rules as EU nurses.They didn’t want even speak to me, pointing, that I need to achieve 7 In IELTS.They want to protect public and improve Health service in UK,HOW? Sorry it does not work.
    How many times in Hospital people had a problem to understand oversies nurses?
    They can send diploma to NMC without IELTS and get their PIN.Who asked them about they ability to speak English?-No one!
    I have been working as a Carer and don’t have any problem with anyone with understanding.
    Yes, I did strugle at first when I came to UK,however I learn a lot.That Why we can’t use our talent and quilification to help?
    Is not enough that we already working in Health Service?

    Please, give me advice.
    P.S. IELTS is too much as time preassure is high.As a nurse do you thing I need to write an Essay at 250 words or read fast.I don’t think so as a nurse you very carefully doing your job and some times you need read twice.But on exam is all about time.

    Kind Regards,


  2. You need to find a new employer and obtain a new working visa.

  3. marilou m. bon says :

    Hi , I am presently employed as team leader in a residential home for people with learning disabilities . I am a midwife and I have 13years experienced as nursing attendant in 150 bed capacity in governemnt hospital in philippines. I came here in England last April 2006 as senior carer and I was promoted as Team leader last february 2009 . I just want to inquire how to extend my visa . My working visa will expire February 2011 butmy employeer said that they will not extend my visa. I am wooried now because i read from immigration matters that they will implement the law , summer 2011 . I can apply my residency 28days before the expiration of my visa but how about if it will change the law regarding the permanet residency . Please can you help me to find employeer that can extend my visa .
    Please can you please give me advise what is the best thing that i need to do .

    Thank you and good luck.


  4. It has been 7.00 for a few years. It was 6.5 iwhen the Immigration Matters article was written some years ago.

    Please refer to latest ONP rules on the NMC website.

    You should also bear in mind that very few overseas nurses are being hired by the NHS, unless they are specialists and on the shortage occupations list.

  5. caroline serrano says :

    about the ONP and the IELTS band score of 6.5..i would like to inquire if i am qualified because when i rang NMC which i was adviced to do they told me that the IELTS band score must be 7.0. so i am confused..i hope for your enlightenment on this matter..thanks again and more power..

  6. caroline serrano says :

    could you please enlighten me yhe definition and difference about leave to remain to further leave to remain and permanent residency or indefinite leave to remain please. thank you and GODBLESS!

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