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Syrian GP refused work experience visa in ‘shocking’ Home Office decision

An MP is taking up the case of a Syrian GP who has been denied a visa application to visit a UK practice on a four-week work experience programme – a decision described as ‘shocking and outrageous’ by the GP partners running the scheme.

Syrian GP Ghaith Rukbi, based at the American University of Beirut (AUB), has been denied a visa for the work experience visit, which includes looking at primary care provision to refugees in Lanarkshire and the Isle of Bute.

The Home Office rejected Dr Rukbi’s application on the grounds that officials believed he did not have sufficient funds to support himself or reason enough to return to Lebanon – so thought he might claim asylum.

This was despite being accommodated and sponsored by local GPs during his visit and being in the third year of a four-year postgraduate medical course at the AUB.

Logan Practice partner Dr Alec Logan, based in Wishaw, was to sponsor Dr Rukbi in his training.

He has now raised concerns that the only reason that Dr Rukbi’s visa was turned down was because he is Syrian, claiming the previous two GPs on the work experience programme applied in the same way with identical references.

Dr Logan told Pulse. ‘Ghaith’s CV is very good and he comes very highly recommended from the AUB. However, the only difference in his application from the others is that he is a Syrian by birth and is a Syrian passport holder. The others were both Lebanese.’

He added: ‘We’re a large teaching practice with – at any given time – five or six medical students and GP trainees on our international training programme so for Ghaith not to get this visa is fairly outrageous, it’s shocking.’

Dr Logan points out that Lanarkshire has a number of Syrian patients who are refugees and there are specific challenges around providing primary care, such as linguistic challenges and treating people with multiple health problems

Motherwell and Wishaw MP Marion Fellows, who is also Dr Logan’s MP, has taken up the case.

She said: ’It would be utterly disgraceful if the Home Office were blacklisting visa applicants based on their nationality – especially GPs who are seeking to come to Scotland to learn and improve their skills.’

Ms Fellows argues that the reasons the Home Office have given for rejecting Dr Rukbi’s visa are ‘entirely unfounded’, adding: ‘It would be extremely worrying if the Syrian nationals were blacklisted for visas in the event that they claimed asylum once arriving. Especially when GPs are coming to improve their training in medicine and enquiring into the provision of primary care to refugees in Scotland.’

Ms Fellows raised the issue in Parliament during Home Office questions to immigration minister Robert Goodwill this week (September 5).

Mr Goodwill replied: ‘It is certainly the aim of the Government to ensure that those who wish to come to our blue-chip universities—the Russell Group universities—to study can do so, but I understand that there are specific cases for courses.

‘I would be happy to meet the hon. Lady to discuss that case and facilitate it.’

It comes after Pulse reported that refugee GPs who have been granted asylum in the UK could be offered support and mentoring in return for working in Cumbria, which has been particularly badly hit by the recruitment crisis.