Key Points:

Failure to register Philippine-trained nurses is not only turning many into overstayers, it puts New Zealand at risk of political backlash, Philippine Ambassador Bienvenido Tejano warns.

Mr Tejano says about 50 "distressed" overstaying Filipinos, many of them nurses, have approached him directly in the last year after they ran out of money, and he believes many others are in the same plight.

"It is a problem, and it is growing by the day. They come in groups of five, 10 and 15, and as much as we want to help them, there is not much we can do," Mr Tejano said.

Many nurses from the Philippines had sold everything to come here - because it was widely publicised that there was an acute shortage of nurses in New Zealand - only to discover their qualifications were not recognised and they could not get registered, he said.

"They have no money to go back, and nothing to go back for any more."

The New Zealand Nursing Council has questioned the quality of nursing qualifications and training programmes in the Philippines after nursing student numbers there boomed from 30,000 in 2004 to 450,000 last year - but Mr Tejano said it was "unacceptable" for the council to be judging the quality just by looking at the numbers.

"There are plenty of cows and sheep here, but does that mean the quality of beef and lamb is compromised because there are millions of them in New Zealand?" Mr Tejano said.

"If you tell me just because there are 450,000 nursing students in the Philippines, our quality has been compromised, then I will also say your sheep and cows here are sickly because there are too many."

Mr Tejano said strict quality control in both countries allowed for standards to be maintained, and instead of being afraid of big numbers, New Zealand should be happy that the Philippines was able to provide it with nurses.

He denounced claims by the Nurses Society that overseas authorities had stopped registering Philippine-trained nurses because it was "totally not true". He said: "I am reacting so strongly to this because it is encroaching into what is really our bread and butter."

Mr Tejano said he was worried that this could escalate into a political issue with the Philippine Government, and was encouraging New Zealand nursing authorities to speak with local hospital chiefs and make a trip to the Philippines to be assured of the quality of Philippine nurses.

Juliana de Castro, who has been rejected by the Nursing Council, said she felt "cheated and tricked", after having sold everything she owned in the Philippines to pay the $8000 fee to her New Zealand recruiting agent and a $2000 air ticket, which has since expired.

"I don't know what I am to do. All I was dreaming for is for a chance to make a living as a nurse, but coming to New Zealand has really become my worst nightmare," said Miss de Castro, whose work to residence visa has also expired.

There are 160 overstayers from the Philippines, according to the Migrant Action Trust, which is conducting immigration clinics for overstayers on behalf of Immigration New Zealand. Said trust co-ordinator Agnes Granada: "We are hoping these overstayers don't just give up hope, but come to these clinics to discuss options on what they can do."