Many nurses are now from overseas
A government ban on recruiting nurses from developing countries did not stop thousands being drafted into the NHS last year.
The figures have raised concern that the UK is continuing to fill staff shortages in the NHS by recruiting from countries that can ill afford to lose staff.
Figures from the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) show that almost 13,000 overseas-trained nurses were registered to work in the UK during 2002-03 - and a further 804 from within Europe.
The UK nursing and midwifery workforce is becoming increasingly culturally diverse
But of these 3,472 nurses came from developing countries from which the Department of Health has said no recruitment should take place.
Most of these "banned" nurses came from Africa. The biggest source was South Africa, which supplied 1,480 nurses to the UK in 2002-03.
The Department of Health has drawn up a code of practice governing recruitment of overseas nurses - but many private recruitment agencies have not signed up to it.
The country that provided most of the overseas nurses was The Philippines - which is not on the banned list.
In 2002-3, 5,594 were registered from The Philippines, but this was a drop compared to the 7,235 in 2001-2.
The figures also show a record number of Indian nurses and midwives were registered to work in the UK during the year.
The total for the year to March 2003 was 1,833 - compared with 994 in the previous 12 months.
During the same period, 18,048 new registrations came from nurses trained in the UK.
NMC President Jonathan Asbridge said: "The UK nursing and midwifery workforce is becoming increasingly culturally diverse."
He stressed that NMC had a rigorous registration process.
More than three quarters of overseas applicants have to complete a period of supervised practice in a nursing home of hospital before they can be registered to work in the UK.
The NMC said the total number of overseas registrations in 2002-3 fell by around 2,000 compared to the previous year.
However it was possible the number would rise this year as nurses finished their supervision period and successfully registered.
Overall there are 597,000 practising nurses and 34,063 midwives registered in the UK.
A Department of Health spokeswoman said the NHS did not actively recruit staff
from developing countries but it had agreements with the governments of The
Philippines, India and Indonesia.
"These countries have indicated to us that they have a surplus of nurses and
are happy for us to work with them to internationally recruit healthcare
staff," she said.