Australian-trained nurses and midwives are being locked out of the workforce as hospitals hire thousands of skilled migrants every year, a new report reveals.
The national union representing 240,000 nurses, midwives and assistants warned the federal government that thousands of graduates missed out on jobs because healthcare employers were signing up foreign workers with temporary 457 visas.
As many as 33 per cent of nurses and midwives who finished their training last year were jobless and many were employed as casuals and wanted more hours, said the report.
Only 15 per cent of graduate respondents had found secure employment in the industry.
The findings underpinned the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation's submission to a Senate inquiry into working visa schemes, raising concerns about employers accessing about 3000 migrant workers a year while graduates were knocked back.
The federation's federal secretary, Lee Thomas, said a growing number of nurse and midwife graduates were walking away from the profession because they could not find work.
"This is not only throwing away public investment in their training and eduction, but it's also contributing to the country's overall increasing shortage of nurses," Ms Thomas said.
One part of the report, a survey conducted over 10 days in February, included responses from more than 400 nurses and midwives who graduated last year.
Based on the findings, the federation said it "conservatively estimates" that 800 graduates in Victoria alone could not get a job.
More than 280 graduates in South Australia and 400 in Western Australia had also not found work, said the union's analysis, while just 600 out of 2500 graduates from Queensland were employed in the industry.
Graduates told of spending months unsuccessfully applying for dozens of positions in urban and remote areas after finishing their courses.
"I am very disheartened with the prospects of future employment and feel as if I have been lied to when told, 'Oh, you're a nurse, you can get a job anywhere' ... this statement would be true if I had three-plus years experience," said one graduate.
"I am all for a multicultural environment, but not when it begins to affect such a large proportion of the local nursing workforce."
The federation and the Australian Council of Trade Unions were pressing the government to tighten laws that regulated the use of 457 visas and to halt any plans to expand the scheme until the Senate reported back on its findings.
Employers in the hospitals and healthcare sector said foreign nurses made up 25 per cent of all new entrants in the nation's nursing workforce each year, and were needed for specialist roles not suitable for new graduates.
Australian Healthcare and Hospitals Association chief Alison Verhoeven said about 20 per cent of nurses in the workforce were nearing retirement age and demand for graduates would pick up, especially in mental health and aged care.
"While some newly graduated nurses are currently unable to find employment, we need enough people studying nursing to meet likely future demand," she said.
Ms Verhoeven said the federal Department of Health must undertake rigorous workforce modelling after the recent closure of a national reporting agency that informed governments on highly complicated health workforce policies.
"It is important for the government to ensure that immigration numbers are well-balanced against nursing graduate numbers," Ms Verhoeven said.
ACTU secretary Ged Kearney, formerly a registered nurse, said overseas workers on temporary visas were being hired ahead of graduates "because they can't speak up".
"They live and work under the threat of deportation," she said.
"Student nurses and midwives complete their degrees, they are often very passionate about this chosen career path, and yet when they try to find work, employers won't give them a chance ... they are told they lack experience, which is outrageous considering they are graduates."