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Backpacking nurses in Australia face visa hurdles to work

Photo: Foreign nurses face visa hurdles to work
More than 1000 backpacking nurses needed in Australia's fight against coronavirus are jumping through hoops to try to stay in the country.

Foreign nurses are being forced to pick fruit to stay in Australia despite being needed for the fight against coronavirus, Labor says.

It comes as thousands of registered nurses will be given online courses to prepare for deployment in intensive care wards during the pandemic.

Up to 20,000 nurses will train for high demand and intensive care needs, including fitting ventilators, it was announced on Thursday.

Federal Labor health spokesperson Chris Bowen says there are more than 1000 nurses backpacking in Australia who could be used to bolster the health sector.
Mr Bowen says the nurses have to leave pop-up clinics and hospitals to meet visa requirements by performing other work, like picking fruit on farms.

"In this crisis, that is simply not sensible and we do believe that working holiday visa requirements on those nurses should be waived," he told reporters in Sydney.

"(The government) could do this change with a stroke of a pen. They've done it before after bushfires and after cyclones."

Mr Bowen welcomed the government's online training announcement, saying he was confident the quality of training would be enough to prepare nurses.

The government has previously committed to funding up to 10,000 refresher courses to get out-of-work nurses back into the health sector, while easing visa requirements for student nurses.

Australia's chief nurse Alison McMillan said the online courses would be as good as hands-on training for nurses.

"The company that we have contracted to do this has got more than 25 years of experience in this type of education," she told ABC radio on Thursday.

Ms McMillan said nursing was not necessarily a dangerous job because of coronavirus, but it was challenging.

"We really do appreciate that this is a worrying time."

The specialist courses will cost Australian taxpayers $4.1 million.

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