Call to extend overseas doctors’ visas

by Tim Tonkin

The Government has been urged to extend the visas of overseas doctors stranded in the UK, as part of an urgent joint intervention led by the BMA.

Location: International
Published: Wednesday 24 June 2020

The association, along with the leaders of organisations including the British International Doctors’ Association and the British Association of Physicians of Indian Origin, have written to home secretary Priti Patel asking that visas be extended until the end of this year.

The letter sent on 23 June comes as hundreds of overseas doctors who came to the UK to complete their PLAB (Professional Linguistic and Assessments Board) assessment, remain in limbo following the suspension of their exams and international flights.

It says: ‘Overseas doctors, as you will appreciate, form the backbone of the NHS and it is imperative that given the workforce shortages, we do all we can to accommodate these doctors. Their plight, far away from family, inability to work as doctors in this country or to be able to help their native country through these turbulent times, is not to be underestimated.’

Finance shortfall

Doctors who have gained their primary medical qualification outside of the European Economic Area must complete a PLAB-2 assessment at the GMC’s headquarters in Manchester, before they can be allowed to practise in the NHS.

Exams were suspended earlier this year owing to the COVID-19 pandemic after the GMC advised that it could not conduct the tests safely and with adequate social distancing.

The Home Office previously announced that overseas doctors in the UK would have their visas extended until the end of July.

However, with PLAB 2 exams not expected to resume until August at the earliest, the BMA and other doctors’ groups have warned that a fresh extension until the end of the year is needed.

BAPIO reported that 220 overseas doctors from 20 different countries are in the UK and unable to work, many have required financial support and other pastoral assistance.

Work appeal

With the cost of extending a visa amounting to nearly £1,000, the letter warns that many of these doctors will be unable to finance the further prolonged stay in the UK needed to complete their examinations.

It says: ‘Most of these doctors can ill-afford such large sums. We would urge you grant a further automatic extension, free of charge, to these doctors until the end of December 2020.

‘This consideration would go a long way to ensuring these doctors are attracted to training and working in the NHS so in the long run such a goodwill gesture will most certainly pay off.’

The full list of signatories to the letter includes BMA council chair Chaand Nagpaul as well as representatives of the Association of Pakistani Physicians of Northern Europe, the Nepalese Doctors Association, the Medical Association of Nigerians Across Great Britain, the British International Doctors’ Association and the British Association of Physicians of Indian Origin.

Read the letter