Visa costs driving doctors from the NHS, warns BMA

by Tim Tonkin

Overseas doctors on a path to settlement should be granted free indefinite leave to remain in recognition of their vital services to the NHS, the BMA has argued.

Location: UK
Last reviewed: 25 February 2022

International doctors and their dependants should be given the peace of mind and security of ILTR (indefinite leave to remain) and not have to face the bureaucratic and financial barriers posed by exorbitant visa charges, the association has said.

In a letter to home secretary Priti Patel, BMA council chair Chaand Nagpaul stated that granting ILTR, free of charge, would show proper and deserved recognition for the important and valued contributions of international doctors to the health service.

He added that increasing support to enable international doctors to stay in the UK was also critical to institutions such as the NHS at a time when the pandemic and a chronic shortage of staff was severely undermining its capabilities.

He said: ‘If the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us anything it is just how vital the NHS and its workforce is. Official vacancy data – which we know is an underestimate – shows that there are over 8,000 medical vacancies in England’s hospitals alone, and BMA estimates show that England is around 50,000 doctors short in comparison with our most comparable EU neighbours.

‘Granting international doctors, and their dependants, currently in the UK indefinite leave without charge would not only recognise their invaluable and selfless commitment to fighting COVID-19 in the UK but would also ensure that these doctors are able to continue to contribute their invaluable expertise to the NHS without the added concern of immigration status.

‘If the Government fail to act to reward these doctors, then we risk worsening the current workforce pressures and backlog of care facing the NHS. In turn, the hidden cost of immigration barriers will inevitably impact on patient care.’

The UK immigration system is one of the most expensive in the world, with the current fee for an ILTR visa amounting to £2,389 per family member, a figure that does not take into account associated costs such as legal fees and submitting biometric data.

The BMA has previously raised the issue of visa charges having written to the prime minister in July 2020 and on numerous occasions during the past two years.

While the Government has made some concessions such as granting ILTR to family members of international doctors who died as a result of COVID, the BMA maintains that such measures are insufficient.