New immigration rules meaning migrants must earn £35,000 or more to stay in the UK after six years will cost the NHS millions and compromise patient safety, a nurses' union has warned.
Measures applying to people from outside the European Economic Area, and due to come into force next year, will force thousands of nurses to return to their own country, the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) said.
The body claimed that would exacerbate the shortage of nurses and affect up to 3,365 members of staff, on whom the NHS has spent £20.19m in recruitment fees.
It added that if recruitment remained at current levels, 6,620 would be affected, at a cost of £39.7m. And if workforce pressures forced a higher rate of recruitment, the number could soar to 29,755, with a £178.5m cost.
The RCN called on the Government to reconsider the £35,000 salary threshold, add nurses to the list of occupations there was a shortage of and increase the number of UK training places to reduce the over-reliance on overseas recruitment in the long term.
Dr Peter Carter, chief executive and general secretary of the RCN, said: "Immigration rules for health workers will cause chaos."