The trainee GP threatened with deportation has called for the Home Office to rethink its handling of visa applications for doctors after being told the case against him was being withdrawn.
Luke Ong (pictured) told BMA News he was ‘cautiously optimistic’ he could finish his training in the UK after receiving an email on Sunday confirming that officials were withdrawing a legal bid to deport him.
He was first made aware of the Home Office backing off after being contacted on Saturday by the BBC, which the Home Office had first informed of its shift in position.
Manchester specialty trainee 3 Luke Ong paid tribute to the ‘wonderful’ support of doctors and his colleagues for helping to secure more than 300,000 signatures for a petition to let him finish his training and work in the UK.
‘The response I was getting was very positive and not just from junior doctors but also the people I worked with. The nurses and healthcare assistants have been very supportive,’ he said.
‘It seems that they have withdrawn from their application to appeal,’ Dr Ong added.
‘I am cautiously optimistic but until I know for sure that I can return to work I’m not going to be celebrating anything.’
Dr Ong faced being ordered to leave the UK after the Home Office appealed against an earlier decision by an immigration judge to let him stay. He was refused a visa because of an ‘honest oversight’ which meant his request for an immigration appointment – the first one he could get – was 18 days after his visa had expired.
'All hands on deck'
During his fight to stay in the country he has become aware of the difficulties faced by other trainees and staff, associate specialist and specialty doctors as a result of restrictions on Tier 2 visas.
‘We are going to have a lot of problems recruiting SAS doctors. They are struggling to get visas to get jobs which is absolutely ridiculous. I am hoping the Home Office looks into this. We need all hands on deck,’ he said.
Tier 2 visa applications are considered with a points-based system for professions on a so-called ‘shortage occupation list’.
However, the number issued is subject to a monthly cap, which has recently been regularly hit.
Dr Ong’s case to stay in the country was championed by the BMA and its council chair Chaand Nagpaul in a letter to the home secretary Amber Rudd last week.
It urged ministers to tear down the ‘unnecessary barriers’ and delays in visa applications and renewals to help more doctors from abroad plug gaps in the NHS workforce.
The case of Dr Ong showed that small delays in visa applications could have ‘far-reaching consequences’ for individual doctors and showed that the applications process was ‘too rigid’, it added.
Dr Nagpaul said he was pleased that the Government had ‘seen sense’.
‘The strong reaction to Dr Ong’s case from healthcare professionals and members of the public highlighted the absurdity of a system that would seek to remove a valued doctor from the country over an administrative error.’
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