New Delhi: The demand for Indian nurses has risen across the globe since the outbreak of Covid-19, and has now hit record levels as countries begin vaccination drives and prepare their healthcare systems for possible future waves or pandemics.
Before the pandemic, the Kerala government-run Overseas Development and Employment Promotion Consultants (ODEPC) was sending around 40 nurses abroad every month. But in the first 23 days of February, it had sent 253 nurses — more than a six-fold increase.
Anoop K.A., managing director of the ODEPC, told ThePrint that 153 nurses have been sent to the UAE, specifically Dubai, 50 to the United Kingdom, and the other 50 to Saudi Arabia and some European countries.
“There are hundreds of other nurses who have been recruited and are ready to fly once the visa facility becomes available,” he said.
According to the ODEPC, the salary offers from Dubai have more than doubled from 4,000-5,000 dirhams (Rs 80,000- Rs 1 lakh) to 10,000-12,000 dirhams (Rs 2 lakh-2.4 lakh).
Other top countries reaching out to India are Ireland, Malta, Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium. “Belgium will be recruiting Indian nurses for the first time. The discussions are still on. Their offer is very attractive; the only thing we are trying to figure out is the language issue,” Anoop said.
While Indian nurses have already been working in hospitals across the world for the last many decades, Leelamma C.A., chief of nursing at Fortis Hospital in Delhi’s Vasant Kunj, said many nurses are now also being employed to work in old-age homes in some countries.
“This year, the reason for high demand is the strengthening of healthcare infrastructure across the globe,” she said. “Indian nurses are known for their dedicated and caring nature apart from sharp skills & high tolerance against stressful working hours. Many of these nurses are also going to Israel and Italy to work in old-age homes.”
This year’s demand is a far cry from last year, when recruitment was put on hold until August due to the pandemic. Overall, only 300 nurses were recruited abroad through the ODEPC in 2019-20. But in the period between August 2020 and February 2021, the organisation has sent over 420 nurses to the UAE, Oman, Saudi Arabia and the UK.
While the demand in Gulf countries has multiplied two to three times, the UK has expressed its intention to employ 50,000 nurses by 2025, a majority of them from India and the Philippines.
Other bodies representing nurses in India confirmed the trend. “Enquiries from the UK and Ireland have increased tremendously. The UK government has extended some additional benefits to healthcare workers after the Covid pandemic,” said Evelyn P. Kannan, secretary general, Trained Nurses Association of India (TNAI), Delhi.
B. Sundaresan, administrative officer at Chennai-based Overseas Manpower Corporation Limited (OMCL), said “the demand is up at least 50 per cent” compared to the pre-Covid era.
The demand for ICU nurses is particularly high. “They are most in the demand, considering countries are preparing for the next waves of Covid-19 and also trying to strengthen their healthcare systems,” Sundaresan said.
Metro cards, pocket money, free accommodation & food
Countries are offering free accommodation and free food for nurses hired from India. Dubai is offering it for an unspecified period, while the UK is providing free accommodation for the first three months and free food for the first 14 days.
Several Gulf countries have relaxed the requirement of entrance exams, apart from several other certification requirements from India, and extended special visa facilities. “This facility is probably extended for the time being, but it has helped nurses go there swiftly,” ODEPC’s Anoop said.
TNAI’s Kannan added: “The UK government decided to waive the immigration health surcharge (IHC) for healthcare workers and their dependents. Also, the government has reduced the visa charges from 464 pounds to 232 pounds for healthcare workers and their dependents.”
Offers from Germany and Ireland have been stable since before the pandemic, at a salary of around Rs 2.5 lakh to Rs 3 lakh. The additional benefits provided in these countries differ from one hospital to another. “While some hospitals are offering free accommodation for some period, others are offering additional benefits such as free metro passes, pocket money or free food coupons,” said Anoop.
Fighting language barrier
Despite all these positives, India nurses are facing a language barrier in European countries, according to industry experts.
Belgium, for example, could send teachers to India for a crash-course in one of its three official languages, Dutch.
“Indian nurses are happier to move to English-speaking countries due to better working and living conditions. The permanent residence permission along with employment opportunities for their dependents attracts more nurses to move to English-speaking countries, especially the UK, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand,” Kannan said.
But even for these countries, many find it difficult to get the required language exam (IELTS/OET) scores, reducing the number of nurses who can go abroad.
This is why the Gulf countries offer an advantage — they don’t require English language exam scores, and even the salary is tax-free.
“Gulf countries hit the right chord among Indian nurses as their populations have a lot of Malayalis,” Anoop pointed out.
He added that the nurses also manage to speak some English despite an overall pass rate of just 30-35 per cent in language courses. “But other languages in countries such as Germany, the Netherlands or Belgium can be quite challenging, and we are working on finding a solution,” the ODEPC MD said.