Hundreds of stranded international doctors face near-£1,000 bill to stay in UK after exams postponed, warns BMA

by BMA media team

Press release from the BMA

Location: UK
Published: Tuesday 23 June 2020

The BMA is calling on the Home Secretary to automatically extend the visas of around 200 doctors left stranded in the UK and unable to work, after exams that would allow them to practise here were postponed due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

More than 3,0001 doctors were waiting to take their second Professional and Linguistic Assessments Board (PLAB 2) test2 – the final assessment needed before overseas doctors are granted license to practice in the UK – when the General Medical Council postponed the exams due to concerns around its ability to meet social distancing guidelines.

Of these, the BMA understands that around 200 doctors are already in the UK3 – meaning they face a visa renewal fee of £993 alongside continued living costs if they wish to stay. Many will be unable to return home due to restrictions on flights or being unable to afford the air fare.

The BMA has now co-signed a letter4 with the British Association of Physicians of Indian Origin (BAPIO), the Association of Pakistani Physicians of Northern Europe, the Nepalese Doctors Association, the Medical Association of Nigerians Across Great Britain and the British International Doctors’ Association, asking that the Home Secretary extends these doctors’ visas, free of charge, until the end of December this year.

In addition to the doctors stranded in the UK, are the thousands of others who want to work here and provide valuable care within the NHS, but are currently being blocked because of the cancelled exams.

Commenting, Dr Chaand Nagpaul, BMA council chair, said:

“These doctors, clinically qualified, ready and eager to work in the UK, had just this one final hurdle to cross before they were able to offer their vital skills and expertise to the NHS.

“And with a bill of almost £1,000 looming to extend their visas they will not only be disappointed and frustrated, but they will now be incredibly anxious as they face severe financial pressure. Given restrictions on international travel and the high cost of flights, returning home simply will not be an option either.

“The NHS is significantly understaffed and we know it relies on our talented international colleagues to provide patients with the high quality care they need – so the knock-on effect of having these exams postponed (with more than 3,000 waiting to sit them) will be potentially very detrimental to the workforce. While of course it’s right that social distancing and safe workplaces are maintained, we have urged the GMC to do everything in its power to ensure necessary changes are put in place so that these exams can resume as soon as possible.

“In the mean-time the Home Office should do the decent thing and automatically – and without charge – extend the visas of this group of doctors who are currently stranded with no income and at risk of financial hardship.”

Ends

Notes to editors

The BMA is a trade union and professional association representing and negotiating on behalf of all doctors in the UK. A leading voice advocating for outstanding health care and a healthy population. An association providing members with excellent individual services and support throughout their lives.

  1. Figures from the GMC.
  2. More information on the PLAB tests here.
  3. The GMC estimates that around 200 doctors are waiting to take the test in the UK, while BAPIO says it is supporting more than 220 doctors.
  4. Full letter here.
  5. The BMA has also written to UK Visas and Immigration asking for an automatic extension for these doctors.