The BMA has called for a six-month ‘grace period’ for GP trainees coming from overseas following the completion of their training, in order to reduce visa pressures.
In a letter to immigration minister Robert Jenrick, the union argued this would give trainees a ‘window’ to find a job at a GP practice and would ‘help alleviate some of the stress and anxiety’ experienced at the end of their training.
The letter highlighted the importance of measures to create a ‘smooth transition into full time employment’ for international medical graduates (IMGs).
In October, the minister committed to ensuring Home Office officials work with the Department of Health and the BMA to consider an ‘umbrella route’ for general practice.
Mr Jenrick suggested that ICBs could function as ‘umbrella bodies’ for visa sponsorship, and NHS England confirmed it is looking into this as a solution.
Currently, IMGs must work under the skilled worker visa scheme for at least five years before they can apply for indefinite leave to remain (ILR), which covers most specialist medical training.
However, GPs usually gain their certificate of completion of training (CCT) after three years, leaving a two-year gap during which they must secure sponsorship if they want to stay in the country when their visas run out.
NHS England had expected to be allowed to sponsor doctors during the two-year gap but could not reach an agreement with the Home Office.
The RCGP called for reform of these ‘nonsensical’ visa rules in an open letter to the home secretary in October, which was signed by over 4,000 GPs and GP trainees.
Over 40% of all trainees are IMGs and around 30% of respondents to a survey by the RCGP last year said they found the visa system so difficult they were considering giving up on their plans to work as GP in the UK.
The BMA said in last week’s GPC bulletin that its recent letter calling for the six-month grace period comes off the back of the minister’s commitment to work towards umbrella sponsorship.
The union said this is something it has ‘repeatedly called for to help create a welcoming environment that ensures the UK attracts and and retains talented doctors to help address the shrinking medical workforce in general practice’.
It added: ‘Stressing the importance of measures being in place to facilitate smooth transition into full time employment ahead of the next cohort of GP trainees completing their training, the letter calls on the Minister to consider a six month grace period as a temporary measure whilst conversations on an umbrella route continue.
‘A grace period would help alleviate some of the stress and anxiety felt by GP trainees coming to the end of their training by providing them with a six-month window to find a GP practice to employ them.’