The number of internationally trained nursing staff in the U.K. is increasing rapidly, according to figures from the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC). But it wasn’t always like this, and until quite recently, English language proficiency was one of the most significant barriers for nurses from abroad.
When Febin Cyriac arrived in the U.K. from his native Cochin in south India to begin his career as an immigrant nurse, he had no idea he would be involved in reducing the red tape surrounding the international recruitment of nurses to the U.K. or that he would set up his own recruitment consultancy Envertiz.
Nursing has always been a popular profession in India, with Cyriac’s particular province, Kerala, producing large numbers of nurses, not least due to the region’s 100% literacy levels. In 2007 he started working at a Mumbai hospital and completed his nursing diploma. Three years later, he enrolled at the U.K.’s University of East London to study for a degree in nursing and began working in private sector nursing homes after graduating. He settled in Cambridgeshire, where he was heavily involved with the Kerala State ex-pat community.
He says: “Many of my weekends were spent participating in community events and collecting friends from the airport, all of which required more disposable income than I had. I needed to broaden my horizons.”
His next move was to Aberdeen and a new division of a London-based nursing agency, where he could be of greater value to the company’s new operation. Eventually, he moved into a business development role, and it was here that he saw the shortfalls of nursing supply in the U.K. and the issues around English language proficiency.
It was 2013, and non-EU nurses were restricted because of overall limited immigration caps. However, the most significant barrier for non-EU foreign nurses was the IELTS, the stringent U.K. nursing English language proficiency test. A pass required a seven out of nine score in a single attempt.
“It made no sense for nurses to need the highest levels of technical English skills, only to struggle with the strong local dialect and leave everyone involved lost in translation,” says Cyriac. “What was needed was a good degree of conversational English.”
In 2014, while working full time, Cyriac launched his recruitment consultancy Envertiz to help fellow professionals enjoy a better career in the U.K., funding the startup from his savings. The same year he started a petition and lobbied the NMC to allow a more realistic score for English proficiency, which was eventually reduced to 6.5.
With the easing of regulations, Cyriac could scale up his recruitment operation quickly. He also launched a campaign for ‘free nursing recruitment.’ “The culture in Kerala State at the time was for firms hiring healthcare professionals for jobs abroad to charge pre-recruitment fees for the service, so trust levels among candidates were low,” he explains. “However, with word of mouth from individuals, their families, friends and colleagues, we became a trusted go-to resource, our numbers increased organically, and in 2019 Envertiz turned a profit.”
He never envisioned that the fledgling operation launched from his bedroom would become an international recruitment business with over 100 employees and an annual turnover of £20 million. Envertiz has recruited more than 10,000 nurses across over 100 NHS Trusts and opened an office in Cochin, serving as a local base for events, training, and visa processing.
However, Cyriac’s most outstanding achievement isn’t his business success but his role in leveling the playing field to enable overseas nurses to work and build a life in the U.K. “My greatest aspiration is for countries to recognize the availability of healthcare professionals as a global problem that can only be solved by sharing knowledge, best practices, and cooperation,” says Cyriac. “We will continue our efforts to lower red tape and encourage the growth of a global mobile healthcare workforce.”