Ease visa norms for overseas including Indian doctors in COVID-19 crisis: BMA tells UK home office
London - The UK Home Office has been urged to consider visa concessions for qualified overseas doctors, including many from India, to help them support the country's stretched National Health Service (NHS) in battling the coronavirus pandemic.
The British Medical Association (BMA), the key professional union for doctors in the UK, has written to Home Secretary Priti Patel to take urgent measures, including easier switch between different categories of visas and automatic indefinite leave to remain (ILR) or permanent residency for international medical professionals.
"International doctors play a hugely important role in the delivery of our NHS.
At this time of national crisis, I am writing to ask you to take urgent measures to support international medical professionals working in the NHS for the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic," BMA Chair of Council Chaand Nagpaul said in his letter to the senior Indian-origin Cabinet minister.
"It is important that medical professionals who wish to assist in the current crisis are supported in doing so. We are calling on you to ensure the Home Office urgently updates its guidance to support international doctors," he said.
Besides ILR for the doctors themselves, the BMA has also flagged the need to confirm the residency status of the dependents of international doctors who die while working on the NHS COVID-19 front lines.
An online petition on the official UK Parliament's petitions website calling on the government to "Give Non-British citizens who are NHS workers automatic citizenship" attracted over 40,000 signatures within days, making it incumbent upon the Home Office to formally respond having crossed the required 10,000 mark.
"This is a chance for the British Government and Public to show them how much we appreciate their invaluable contribution to our society," the petition notes.
The BMA has also called for special dispensation for all international medical students, and health care workers to switch sponsors automatically without having to apply for another visa and reiterated ongoing calls for an immigration health surcharge waiver for these professionals.
A group of Indian doctors in the UK on visit visas to appear for international qualification exams also appealed to the government to consider a dispensation so they could contribute during the crisis, while they remain stranded in Britain due to India's ongoing lockdown to fight the pandemic.
"It is extremely disheartening to not be able to help people during such a crisis by doing what I have trained for," said a doctor from Delhi, who is trained in emergency care.
"We came here with a purpose. It would mean a lot if we can be given a shot to help in a voluntary capacity – remotely or over the phone – without putting anyone at risk," he said.
The UK government had confirmed last month that foreign doctors, including from India, whose visas are set to expire before October this year will get an automatic free of charge extension for one year as the country battles the pandemic.
"I don't want them distracted by the visa process. That is why I have automatically extended their visas – free of charge – for a further year," Patel had said at the time.
She is now being urged to go further and make full use of vital medical resources offered by doctors who have trained overseas.