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Trained Filipino nurses are crying foul over the Nursing Council's tightening of rules governing registering overseas-trained nurses.

They say the new requirements are prejudicial and unfair and are keeping them at unskilled jobs on the minimum wage when hospitals are facing an acute shortage of nurses.

In new requirements effective from Thursday, all overseas-qualified nurses - including those from Britain and other English-speaking countries - will face a tough English language assessment.

It will require they score 7.0 in each band of the IELTS (International English language testing system) test, higher than the current university entry requirement of 6.0.

But the biggest stumbling block for many Filipino nurses is a recent ruling by the council that nursing degree courses of less than four years will no longer be deemed eligible.

For most of the Philippines-trained nurses, nursing was their second course, and the length of time they took to complete it was reduced because they had exemption for certain subjects taken for a previous degree.

Agnes Granada, co-ordinator for Migrant Action Trust, said it was common for Filipino workers to do a degree in nursing as a second course because they saw the global nursing shortage as their ticket out of the Philippines.

Ms Granada said she knew of trained nurses who had been medical doctors back in the Philippines who could not be registered here.

Ruby Lat, a former dentist-turned-nurse, said the council requirements were totally ridiculous and unfair.

"I feel it is just the council's way of protecting nursing jobs for the locals," said Mrs Lat, who could find work only as a healthcare assistant at Auckland's North Shore Hospital on a pay of $16 an hour instead of $25 an hour as a registered nurse. Another, who wanted to be known only as Reginald, believed the requirement was to protect nursing jobs for the locals.

"How many of the local nurses would even be able to get 7.0 in IELTS anyway. It is just not a level playing field."

Rodney Faulkner, director of A1 Care 24-7, which recruits nurses overseas for local hospitals and district health boards, says the new registration is stupid and will just add to New Zealand's loss.

Mr Faulkner said "there seems to be a huge miscarriage of justice" when a trained nurse he recruited, who also held a doctor's degree in of medicine and topped his university in the Philippines, was not considered good enough for this country.

Hospitals are facing nursing shortages. In November, Auckland City Hospital blamed nurse shortages for a big rise in the number of people wait-listed for heart surgery.

The Nursing Council could not be contacted for comment.