Hundreds of highly-qualified overseas nurses hoping to work in Ireland are stuck in a visa application “logjam” due to delays in processing their applications, it has been claimed.
The delays will rule Ireland out as a destination for many skilled health workers and contribute to staff shortages and hospital overcrowding in the months to come, according to the owner of one health recruitment agency.
Up to 850 nurses from India and other countries that require a visa to come here are affected by the problem, he says.
The nurses, currently in India or the Middle East, have to do a qualifying exam organised by the RCSI, which costs almost €3,000. They need temporary visas costing €250 to come here for the exam.
As the waiting period for visas has lengthened, nurses have missed their exam slots. Where this happens, they have to wait for the next exam, pay the fee again and seek a new three-month visa.
“Since the new year, candidates are being refused their temporary visa to sit the exam for bizarre and random reasons such as the type of software used to submit their documentation or the middle name not being included in one document,” says the recruiter, who declined to be identified “as we wouldn’t like to be the ones exposing the Department” of Justice for their handling of this whole issue.
One Indian nurse with 20 years’ work experience who is currently in the Middle East told The Irish Times she has been waiting 76 working days for a decision on her visa application. She was due to sit the RSCI exam in late May but was unable to travel to Ireland due to the lack of a visa; one of the documents she had photocopied was deemed illegible.
“I wanted to work in Europe and chose Ireland because friends said it was peaceful and the salaries were good. But I have been waiting a long time. I have resigned from my job, which ends in July. I will have to go to India then if this is not sorted out. My husband and children are already there.”
She said many of her colleagues are now warning about looking for work in Ireland due to the difficulties in obtaining a visa and say countries such as the UK and New Zealand process applications more quickly.
“They pay what are family life savings in their home countries and now, with no advance notice, they are missing their slots and have to postpone their exam for a further six months,” the recruiter said.
“These nurses will have had to give several months notice in their current positions and will have quit their jobs in expectation of sitting their exams and beginning their new careers in Ireland. They will have made arrangements for families to travel also. They have upended their lives and gambled their life savings on a bureaucratic process that is not fit for purpose.”
“Nurses are now refusing to take the huge gamble with what are, to many, their life savings on the risk of coming to Ireland.”
“This will only begin to impact the health service in the coming months but it is worth remembering how many nurses we lose monthly to Australia, Canada, etc. When it hits us we will see more wards closed and trolley numbers breaking all-time records.”
The current average processing time for applications is “approximately” 35 working days, the Department of Justice told The Irish Times. Its website advises applicants to expect processing to take at least 20 working days.
The recruiter said he had two nurses waiting 42 working days for a visa decision after more information was requested, while two others have been waiting 74 working days after a second request for information, and have had to postpone their exams.
“We have eight other candidates waiting on decisions that would be due now and these nurses are due for exams in July.”
The Department is working to reduce immigration processing times through modernisation of systems and the introduction of efficiencies, a spokesman said. “More resources were added to manage the scheme recently as well as additional streamlining measures which should also reduce processing times for applications.”
Where issues arise with applications, the Department often opts to return them for correction rather than move to outright refusal “so as not to cause undue delays to applicants,” he added.
The RCSI said refunds on exam fees are offered in most circumstances, including when a candidate is unable to travel.