Free of charge visa extension for overseas doctors

by Tim Tonkin

Overseas doctors facing crippling debts from being stranded in the UK owing to COVID-19 will see their visas extended free of charge, following lobbying by the BMA.

Location: International
Published: Wednesday 5 August 2020

Hundreds of overseas doctors, who had come to the UK to complete their PLAB 2 (Professional and Linguistic Assessments Board) tests and been left in limbo after exams were postponed owing to the pandemic, will not incur further charges for the remainder of their stay. These doctors have now secured test dates in August and September.

New guidance issued by the UKVI (UK Visas and Immigration) means doctors whose visa or leave to remain had been due to expire between 24 January and 31 July 2020 will now be given further time to complete their PLAB assessments.

‘Common sense’ decision

The decision comes following intense lobbying by the BMA and other health organisations, with the association having previously written to the UKVI agency and the Home Office, calling for overseas doctors’ visas to be extended free of charge.

BMA council chair Chaand Nagpaul welcomed the decision as one of ‘common sense’ that would support individual doctors who had faced incredibly difficult personal circumstances and ultimately benefit the NHS.

He said: ‘This news will be of great relief to those international doctors who were stranded in the UK unable to work and who faced additional financial hardship due to the prospect of extortionate visa renewal fees. 

‘Thanks to lobbying from the BMA, these doctors will now be able to sit their exams without having to pay to renew their visas and will finally be able to cross this one last hurdle necessary for them to work in the NHS.’

He added: ‘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 we are glad that the UKVI office has listened to the BMA and introduced a common sense policy that will allow them to sit their exams and contribute their skills to the NHS when they are needed most.’

Renewal fees

Around 200 doctors unable to take exams, work or even return home owing to restrictions on international travel, had been facing visa renewal fees of £993, with many forced to rely on personal and financial support from professional organisations such as the British Association of Physicians of Indian Origin.

Under the terms of the new guidance: 

  • Doctors looking to leave the UK whose visa or leave that was due to expire between the 24 January and 31 July will receive a grace period until 31 August during which conditions of their leave will remain the same
  • Those intending to leave but unable to do so by 31 August can apply for additional time through an ‘exceptional indemnity’ by contacting the coronavirus immigration team
  • Doctors looking to remain in the UK to complete examinations can apply for a visa extension free of charge and from within the UK.

For more information on the new visa guidance, click here