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Olayinka Aremu, President of the Association of Nigerian Nurses in Ireland.
here to care

Visa delays leave African nurses in Ireland isolated from family

Nurses migrating to Ireland to fill vacancies say housing crisis, cultural differences and visa process delays might push them to leave.

RIDWAN ABDULRASAQ REALISED early in his career that he no longer wanted to work as a nurse in his home country Nigeria: “I was underpaid, there were only few chances to progress and I wasn’t getting opportunities to explore several aspects of nursing.’’

The 31-year-old started seeking opportunities abroad. Last October — a few months after his wedding — he was offered a job in Ireland.

While Ridwan was excited about the opportunity to go abroad, practicing as a non-EEA nurse in Ireland meant he couldn’t immediately bring his wife with him.

“It was tough for us to be separated that early in our marriage but like many non-EU nurses, the plan was to avail of the family reunification visa as a Critical Skills Employment Permit holder,” he said.

“I had a few options but I chose to move here because I had the impression that Irish people have a sense of community and are family-oriented, so we thought, ‘why not raise a family here?’”

Despite working in Dublin for the past nine months, Ridwan is yet to reunite with his wife.

“Some nurses who applied to the Ireland Embassy in Nigeria have been waiting for up to two years,” said Ridwan.

According to the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service (INIS) website, immediate family reunification visas are dealt with within six months of application but Abdulrazak says delays in processing visas for African nurses in comparison to his non-EEA colleagues have become a source of frustration.

Ridwan Abdulrasaq Newlywed Ridwan Abdulrasaq and his wife have been waiting since April for her reunification visa to come through. Joseph Okoh Joseph Okoh

“In my case my wife applied in April and we’re still waiting, but my Indian colleague who applied in May already has her family here.” 

I work in a nursing home where I do 12-hour shifts and look after 38 patients. It’s hard not having anyone to go home to after a long day.

Ireland relies heavily on overseas non-EU nurses to fill vacancies.

A 2022 report by the Nursing and Midwifery Board of Ireland (NMBI) shows that 61 per cent of new registrants in the Irish nursing service were from non-EU countries, with Zimbabwe (132) and Nigeria (62) among the top African countries filling in staff shortages here.

“When we come here, we want to feel valued. We also don’t want to break our family bond,” says Olayinka Aremu, President of Association of Nigerian Nurses in Ireland, a social and cultural interest group which advocates for the interests of Nigerian nurses here.

“Nurses coming from Nigeria and Ghana are the ones mostly affected by these delays. We did a survey last year and found out that among Nigerian and Ghanian nurses who had applied for family reunification visas, only 20% had theirs approved on time.

“Why are some non-EEA nurses able to bring their families here in only a matter of weeks and others can’t? That is disgraceful,” she said.

Olayinka said when ANNI sought to find out reasons for the delays the response they got from the Ireland Embassy in Nigeria were through automated emails saying “applications are attended to on a case-by-case basis”.

She noted:

We’re no longer at the peak of the pandemic when processing times were longer.

“They just wouldn’t say what the exact issue is. We don’t know if they are short of staff but even if they are, that isn’t tenable because countries like India and Philippines with significantly higher numbers of nurses coming to Ireland are getting approvals way quicker.”

In the last few years, the mass exodus of Irish trained nurses has paved the way for more and more African nurses to move here for work.

ANNI members Members of the Association of Nigerian Nurses in Ireland (ANNI). Joseph Okoh / ANNI Joseph Okoh / ANNI / ANNI

However, Ridwan said visa challenges and the persistent shortage of affordable housing is now making Ireland a less attractive destination for nurses and midwives, adding that if these issues are ignored, Ireland risks losing its non-EU workers too to other countries.

“People need to understand that housing is a key component of integration for us. Unfortunately, the housing crisis isn’t getting any better,” he said.

“I currently spend more than 50 per cent of my income on rent and whenever my wife is able to join me, my rent will definitely increase. I’m seriously considering relocating to Australia or the US. I don’t see myself living in Ireland beyond 2025.”

Farida (not real name) is a nurse midwife who recently swapped Ireland for the UK – only 18 months after moving here from West Africa. The mother of three said she got fed up waiting for eight months for her for her family’s visa application to be processed.

Despite the delay, Farida never planned to leave Ireland, but had a rethink when she received the tragic news that 40 people, including four children, were killed at a mass shooting incident in the city her family lived.

“I was at work and so agitated.

I kept on thinking, ‘Are they safe? If anything happens to them, I won’t forgive myself.’

“It was the scariest day of my life,” Farida recalls.

Last December, Farida joined the National Health Service (NHS) after availing of the UK’s Health and Care Worker Dependent visa scheme.

“I got a job in Coventry, so my family retrieved their passports and applied to the UK. They got their visas approved within seven working days and they were able to join me immediately,” she said.

“Although I was initially provided with three months’ accommodation here, when my family arrived, we found an alternative accommodation without any hassle.”

The lack of suitable available accommodation especially for those working in larger towns and cities is an issue of growing concern for the INMO, with the group warning of a likely staff shortage at the new National Children’s Hospital and the proposed new elective hospital in Cork city if they can’t find a place close to work.

Olayinka said many nurses now coming to Ireland are now been forced to live in shared rooms and accommodation with mixed gender.

When African nurses move here, family separation isn’t their only challenge.

Exposure to a new medical system, non-recognition of their qualifications, navigating ethical issues due to differing beliefs and workplace culture can take its toll.

Lukman Busari is a general nurse who has been working in Ireland for the past six years after relocating from Nigeria.

When the 39 year old started working in Ireland, he said he encountered a few situations that made him feel like an outsider but has since developed adaptation techniques.

It was small things like management style or how conflicts were handled in the work environment. 

“Unlike in Nigeria, here people don’t really like confrontation. So, I always found it odd that when I did certain things perceived to be unorthodox, instead of colleagues telling me to my face, they would report to the line manager. It used to annoy me.”

Lukman adds that cultural misunderstandings can have a negative impact on professional relationships and affect performance level.

“Where I work, I have seen a lot of migrant nurses struggling to adapt. Some feel so isolated and seem to be losing their self-confidence.”

While Lukman is pleased with HSE’s induction and adaptation programmes for internationally recruited nurses, he wants more emphasis to be on how the existing workforce can support new overseas joiners as they carve out new lives for themselves here.

Lukman Busari Lukman Bursari has been working as a general nurse in Ireland for six years and has seen migrant nurses struggling to adapt. Joseph Okoh Joseph Okoh

“There should be a feedback system where nurses can express what they are going through especially during the first six months of their induction or probation.”

Olayinka agreed: “ANNI has received multiple reports from nurses on the adaptation programme who aren’t getting adequate support required to pass their assessments. Oftentimes these nurses have to go back to their countries after spending so much to come here. There are particular centres where the failure rate is alarming. That needs to be checked.”

For the past six months, Olayinka has been planning an event which she hopes would transform the experiences of the migrant nurses in Ireland. The inaugural Africa Health Summit holding this Saturday at Richmond Education Centre in Dublin will bring together healthcare professionals from the migrant community and Irish healthcare policy makers with Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly expected to address the event.

She said:

It’s long overdue.

“We want our voices to be heard. We want to have an open dialogue with government representatives and other stakeholders on a wide range of issues and build partnerships.

“We hope this will help build and sustain a positive working environment for all healthcare professionals and the country at large.”