A leading association of Indian doctors in the UK has thrown its weight behind a new “Scrap the Cap” campaign against the “rigid” visa norms that are blocking hundreds of Indian doctors from helping the country’s state-funded National Health Service.
The British Association of Physicians of Indian Origin (BAPIO) said it had doctors on its list who can come in on a short-term basis to fill National Health Service (NHS) shortage and gain training in the process.
However, the UK government’s annual immigration target means they are not even applying as they will be refused a visa because of the monthly cap on overseas professionals being breached.
The ‘British Medical Journal’ has raised over 1,000 signatures already on an online petition ‘Scrap the cap on international doctors being allowed to work in the NHS’ on the UK Parliament website within days of the “Scrap the Cap” campaign.
At 10,000 signatures, the UK government will be forced to respond and at 100,000, the issue will have to be considered for a House of Commons debate.
“We are whole-heartedly behind this campaign. There needs to be a common-sense approach. Rather than a rigid cap, there needs to be a system that is more flexible and meets the needs of the healthcare service,” said BAPIO president Ramesh Mehta.
The cap under the Tier 2 visa category to allow companies to bring in professionals from outside the European Union (EU) is set at 20,700 per year, with a monthly limit of around 1,600.
Until December last year, that limit had been exceeded only once in almost six years but since then that cap has been reached nearly every month.
According to latest figures, between December 2017 and March 2018, the UK Home Office refused over 1,500 visa applications from doctors.
“The Home Office policy is a disaster for the country’s health service. There is a shortage of 10,000 doctors and we have Indian doctors shortlisted who can help fill that gap,” Mehta said.
Mehta’s group has been campaigning for one streamlined route for overseas doctors rather than the current system of different immigration routes.
BAPIO also believes doctors from India should be brought in on a short-term basis to be able to benefit from training in the UK and then return to India to prevent any “brain drain” from a country also in need of medical professionals.
The ‘Scrap the Cap’ campaign comes soon after a recent YouGov survey found overwhelming support among the British public for having a more flexible visa regime for overseas doctors, based on the needs of the NHS.
The British Medical Association (BMA), 12 medical royal colleges, NHS Employers and other professional bodies co-authored a letter to UK home secretary Sajid Javid last month asking for the cap to be reviewed.
“It makes no sense to turn doctors away from working here when the NHS is under huge pressure. The Tier 2 visa quota has been reached for the sixth month in a row, yet there are still thousands of posts unfilled, with vacancy rates rising,” said BMA Chair Chaand Nagpaul.
“In the short term, the Home Office needs to show some flexibility. We shouldn’t be turning away people from outside the EU that the NHS needs and the public wants. With our health service short on high-skilled staff, it makes sense to take NHS staff out of the monthly high-skilled quota,” said Sunder Katwala, Director of think tank British Future.
The campaign comes amid growing opposition within British Prime Minister Theresa May’s own Conservative party over the issue. Many of her backbench MPs are believed to be in revolt mode over the issue, calling for a relaxation of rules.
“There’s a sort of madness in the current restrictions. The UK has always relied on and welcomed doctors from overseas. Now, just when we most need them, we are putting roadblocks in their way and wasting precious money, time and international goodwill,” said Fiona Godlee, editor in chief of ‘BMJ’ in reference to the campaign.
The UK Home Office, however, says that while it recognises the “contribution” of international professionals, it is important that the country’s immigration system ensures that employers look first to the UK resident labour market before recruiting from overseas.
“We estimate that around a third of all tier-two places go to the NHS,” a spokesperson said.