Refugee Overseas qualified doctor Immigration Life and work in the UK

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Are you a refugee doctor who wants to work in the UK?

If you want to work as a doctor in the UK,  you must be licensed to practice by the General Medical Council.

To get your license to practice you will need to do three things:


Pass the IELTS test

This is an English language test which includes tests on speaking, reading, writing and listening.


Pass the Professional and Linguistic Assessments Board (PLAB) test

This is a two-part  test to determine doctors’ competence and includes PLAB 1 – a written test, and PLAB 2 - a  practical test with different scenarios to test your competence in settings such as a mock consultation or an acute ward.


Take a clinical attachment

This is a type of unpaid work experience which familiarises doctors with the NHS and UK practice. You will observe the work in an NHS hospital for about 10-12 weeks, though the content of the attachment varies depending on the hospital.

Once you have passed all three stages, you can apply for your license to practice from the GMC and then apply for jobs as a doctor in the UK.


Is help available?

Join the BMA Refugee Doctors Initiative (RDI), it's free. The RDI works with other refugee groups to give financial help and support with IELTS and PLAB tests and assistance with finding a clinical attachment.

Find out more about the help you can get.


  • What is the refugee doctor initiative and how do I apply?

    We believe refugee doctors make a valuable contribution to the delivery of healthcare services in the UK and we have been involved in many initiatives, working with a broad coalition of other organisations, to help you pursue your career in the UK.

    The BMA Refugee Doctor Initiative is a vital part of your professional development in the UK.


    What will I get from the Refugee doctor initiative?

    Free benefits of belonging to the initiative include:

    • Free weekly subscription to The BMJ (including the BMJ Careers supplement, giving details of hundreds of NHS jobs).
    • Free weekly subscription to BMA News, and access to news on the BMA website which covers a wide range of issues including medico-political and health stories.
    • A confidential 24-hour telephone counselling service is available to refugee doctors and their families for all personal, emotional, work or study related problems. Call 0330 123 1245 (all calls are charged at local rates). Further information is also available on our Your wellbeing section.
    • Use of the BMA library including access to the Medline Plus search facility via the internet or on computers at the library. The ebook collection is also a popular resource with over 1000 texts that can be accessed online. Each book/DVD comes with a return address label. For those registered with the BMA's Refugee Doctor Initiative, this is a reply paid label so posting items back to us is free.
    • Guidance notes and reports on a wide range of subjects.
    • Local BMA support - staff within the BMA's local and national offices can help you make contact with relevant education organisations and advise you on contracts of employment. Your name can also be added to invitation lists for local BMA meetings. While staff do not provide career advice, they may be able to identify local sources of support. Doctors already registered with the GMC or who are entitled to GMC registration should join the BMA as full members to receive detailed employment advice.
    • Support from the BMA International Department. Please note that the BMA cannot advise on asylum cases.
    • This department also coordinates BMA activities and provides information on other projects to help refugee doctors.



    BMA Refugee Doctor Initiative application form (PDF)

    Please complete the form and use the free post address label (at the back of the application form) to send it back to the BMA. Please remember to supply the requested documentation, otherwise processing your application may be delayed. If you have any questions you can contact the BMA on 020 7383 6955.

    If you have any questions about your application then please contact us on [email protected]

  • Where can I get help?

    There is a variety of help available for refugee doctors which is itemised below.


    Comprehensive assistance schemes

    Comprehensive schemes exist throughout the UK which offer help with IELTS, PLAB tests and clinical attachments.

    Please note the BMA is not responsible for the content contained on any external websites.




    Lincolnshire Refugee Doctor Project

    The Lincolnshire Refugee Doctor Project aims to create the best possible scheme in Lincolnshire for supporting refugee doctors back into medical practice in the UK. The programme aims to help doctors:

    • refresh their skills, knowledge and confidence
    • re-qualify to UK standards
    • secure employment appropriate to their professional qualifications.

    The programme will also help the doctors settle with their families in Lincolnshire and will be offering humanitarian support to refugee doctors and their families.

    Contact details:

    Lincolnshire Refugee Doctor Project
    Telephone: (03033) 302 317/302 296
    Email: [email protected]



    Building Bridges

    The Building Bridges programme is an NHS-funded partnership for all refugee health professionals living in London and is made up of three organisations: the Refugee Council, London Met's Refugee Assessment and Guidance Unit (RAGU), and Glowing Results.

    The programme supports refugee doctors living in London to re-qualify to UK standards and secure employment appropriate to their professional qualifications. This is done by helping them to:

    • Get careers guidance on routes towards professional registration
    • Pass IELTS test through their work with Glowing Results
    • Access voluntary work and work placements in the healthcare sector
    • Refreshing medical knowledge and skills before taking PLAB Part 1 and Part 2 exams
    • Familiarise themselves with UK medical procedures and systems through clinical attachments
    • Understand recruitment processes in the UK and develop the necessary skills
    • Find employment through the CAPS (Clinical Apprenticeship Scheme) or other routes
    • Develop and maintain a strong peer-to-peer network to share experience and provide emotional, social or practical help to each other

    Contact details:

    Refugee Council
    PO Box 68614
    E15 9DQ
    Telephone: 020 7346 6773
    Email [email protected]

    RAGU (Refugee Assessment and Guidance Unit)
    London Metropolitan University
    Tower Building, Room BE-UB-01
    166 – 220 Holloway Road
    London N7 8DB
    Telephone: 020 7133 2110



    REACHE North West supports refugee doctors living in the North West of |England to work toward their GMC registration.

    It helps to provide:

    • English classes
    • PLAB examination preparation
    • Placements and clinical attachments
    • Adaptation to the NHS
    • Registration applications
    • First NHS medical post
    • Advice and guidance

    Contact details:

    Tel: 0161 206 4201
    Fax: 0161 206 0902
    Email: [email protected]



    NHS Scotland Refugee Doctor's Programme

    This programme is run by NHS Education for Scotland (NES) and is designed to assist asylum seeking and refugee doctors to achieve registration with the General Medical Council in order to be in a position to compete for posts in the NHS in the UK.

    You will be eligible for the programme if you:

    • Live in Scotland
    • Have refugee status, are currently applying for asylum or are appealing against the refusal of asylum.
    • Have a qualification from a medical school recognised by the World Health Organisation.

    The programme provides help with:

    • English classes
    • PLAB examination preparation
    • Placements and clinical attachments
    • Advice and guidance

    Contact: Rebecca Walker, Training Programme Assistant
    Email: [email protected]
    Telephone number 0141 223 1409 .



    WARD - Wales Asylum Seeking and Refugee Doctors

    The Wales Asylum Seeker and Refugee Doctors (WARD) Group is funded by the Wales Assembly Government and is based in the Wales Deanery, to help refugee doctors in Wales achieve their GMC registration.

    It provides support with English Language (IELTs) tests, PLAB tests and Supernumerary (Foundation level) posts. These posts are allocated for refugee doctors who have successfully completed PLAB 2, who are not registered with the GMC and are ‘job ready’. Each post is for 6 months duration at a time.

    Contact: Leona Walsh
    Professional Support Manager – Health Education and Improvement Wales (HEIW)
    Email: [email protected]
    Tel: 01443 824284



    Organisations which help with funding

    Academy of Medical Royal Colleges

    Oversees and coordinates the work of all member Medical Royal Colleges and their faculties. The colleges and faculties provide training in the various medical specialties. See a full list of colleges.

    The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists

    Provides refugee doctors with access to a number of resources to keep their medical knowledge up to date

    The Royal College of Surgeons

    Provides support programmes for refugee surgeons, dental surgeons and surgical trainees in the UK.

    BMA charities

    The BMA charities trust fund helps with the costs involved in taking the PLAB exams and GMC registration for refugee and asylum seeking doctors. If you are within the catchment area of REACHE North West or the RAGU programme we will expect you to be working with them before you apply to us. Email BMA charities for more information.

    Council for At-Risk academics (Cara)
    Cara provides solidarity and support at risk academics to reach a place where they can work in safety, including financial and practical help.


    General refugee support organisations

    Medact Refugee Network
    A network of health professionals working with refugees.

    Migrants Organise
    This is a platform where migrants and refugees organise for power, dignity and justice.

    Migrants Resource Centre
    Provides immigration and asylum advice services.

    North of England Refugee Service (NERS)
    This is available to refugee doctors in the Tyne and Wear and is open Monday to Friday 9am -5pm.
    NERS also provides an advice service on Monday and Tuesday between 10 and 2, either face to face, email or telephone for refugee doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals in the North East of England.

    Tel: 0191 245 7301
    Fax: 0191 222 0239
    Email: [email protected]

    Refugee Council
    The Refugee Council is the largest organisation in the UK providing support and help to refugees and asylum seekers.

    Refugees in Effective and Active Partnership
    Provides a range of practical advice and support to refugees and asylum seekers.

    Refugee Women's Association
    Provides advice and guidance on education, training, employment, health and social care.

    RETAS Leeds
    Supports the social and economic development of refugees and asylum seekers in Yorkshire.

  • Where can I get help with registration and licensing?

    The General Medical Council (GMC) registers and licenses doctors to practice medicine in the UK.

    As a general guide, doctors who have gained their medical degree outside the European Economic Area (EEA) will be required to complete an International English Language Testing System (IELTS) exam and Professional Linguistic Assessment Board (PLAB) exams, prior to registration with the GMC.

    However being a successful doctor in the UK is about more than clinical competence. You also need to know and apply the principles and values set out in the GMC's core guidance, Good Medical Practice and to understand how those standards apply to your daily practice.

    GMC advisers are available to talk to doctors and assist with any queries on registration and licensing.

    Once you have your GMC registration, please contact us. There is a special rate for BMA membership for those who were previously in the refugee doctors’ initiative.

    Email [email protected] or call one of our advisors on 0300 123 1233 Monday to Friday 9.00am - 4.00pm


    Help is available from the GMC


    What are the English knowledge requirements for IMGs?

    Passing the IELTS test and the PLAB test

    The GMC stipulates that :

    • you got a score of at least 7.0 in each testing area (speaking, listening, reading and writing), and an overall score of 7.5
    • these scores must be achieved in the same test
    • that you took the academic version of the test
    • you have the original stamp and test report form (TRF) number (used to validate all certificates)


    Useful resources on language testing

    Read the GMC guidance on English language requirements

    Read BMA guidance on English language testing

    Read BMA guidance on recent changes to the PLAB test