On the ground: faced with upheaval

An abrupt termination of an overseas doctor’s contract left him in difficulty with his visa, but a BMA adviser’s efforts bought him the time and space he needed to keep his career on track

Location: UK
Published: Friday 16 April 2021
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An overseas doctor faced having to leave the UK because an employer misled him about the length of a fixed-term contract.

The doctor had been offered a number of short-term posts, including one local to his home address, but when he was offered a 12-month appointment some miles away he took it because it meant he would reach his qualifying period for applying for ILR (indefinite leave to remain) during the year-long post fulfilling one of the criteria. He duly moved house, taking out a 12-month lease on a new property.

Part of the way through his contract, and just a few months before he was able to apply for ILR, his department dropped a bombshell. It gave him three months’ notice to end his job – not because he was under-performing, but in the words of a rather curt email, there had been an ‘error on the contracts’. Another doctor was coming to take up the post and the overseas doctor was not needed once that doctor arrived.

The doctor thought there had been no error at all. He believed the hospital had deliberately planned it that way, getting him for exactly the time it wanted without any thought as to the consequences to his future. It had advertised for a 12-month post, knowing it would get more applicants that way, rather than a shorter-term post.

The notice period could not have fallen more badly. It meant he was due to leave his post weeks before he could have applied for ILR.

Worse than that, the employer insisted he kept to his notice period, meaning that he could not easily apply for other posts to help him make his ILR application and stay in the country.

He was offered a post in another part of the country but was unable to give his potential new employer a start date, and it seemed in jeopardy. At the same time, he was trying to apply for training posts, but this too was affected by the uncertainty with his immigration status. He faced the prospect of his visa running out and having no choice but to leave the UK.

The BMA adviser contacted HR, calling for the decision to be reversed given that the hospital was under-staffed. It seemed that his employer had to lose a doctor and had picked him without any consideration for his circumstances. If he could not be kept on, the adviser argued, he should at least be released early so he could look for other jobs and find an employer prepared to sponsor his visa.

This was a great example of persistence by the adviser. The department – the same department which had given him notice – was then worried about being short-staffed and wanted to keep him on for the full notice period to fill rota gaps.

But the adviser worked on the HR department and encouraged it to see the situation from the doctor’s point of view. The department shifted a little, saying he could go early if another doctor could be found, but the adviser persisted, saying those gaps could be covered by locums – it wasn’t fair that the doctor was viewed as the cheaper option when he had not chosen to leave.

Eventually the employer relented and allowed the doctor to leave early so he could give a start date to the new employer so they could arrange the correct visa. It had been a stressful time for him. He had wanted to return to his home country to visit a sick relative but had felt unable in the circumstances. Now he was able to apply to stay permanently in the UK. He said he had received ‘exceptional support’.