Zimbabweans are using a basic nursing course to escape overseas*

BULAWAYO, Zimbabwe — Young Zimbabweans are flocking to a seven-week nursing course that helps them get jobs overseas.

A surge in sign-ups for the $300 course over the last year has accelerated a two-decade trend in which thousands of health workers have left the country.

The course, which teaches first aid techniques and the principles of nursing, is offered at private centers nationwide by organizations including International Committee of the Red Cross, St John’s Ambulance centers and universities. The qualification makes it easier and faster for participants to secure visas and jobs as care assistants in the UK, New Zealand and Australia.

It has been available for decades but was traditionally only taken by those with few formal qualifications. Red Cross and St John’s training centers now have a six-month waiting list, according to prospective students. Participants say people with qualifications including degrees now opt for the course as a fast route to move abroad.

The surge also follows a February 2022 change in the UK, one of the preferred destinations for Zimbabwean migrants, which opened up recruitment from overseas for care workers because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The number of Zimbabweans granted worker visas rose sharply to 8,363 in September 2022 from 499 in 2019, according to the UK Office of National Statistics.

But those who have leave are vulnerable to scammers. In February 2023, the British embassy in Harare warned Zimbabweans of recruitment agencies who have used “unethical” practices to deceive migrants who are then subjected to unfair labor conditions and ill-treatment. Job seekers, it said, must sign contracts indicating their salary, working hours and location and ensure that their employers abide by the terms of the agreements.

Some British recruitment agencies are charging up to £10,000 ($12,000) for a bogus “sponsorship certificate” for candidates desperate to guarantee approval of their UK visa applications.

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