The Government must act ‘urgently’ to prevent newly-qualified foreign GPs from being deported as they struggle to secure visas during the pandemic, the RCGP has said.
The RCGP warned the extra pressure placed on practices by Covid-19 meant practices are unable to carry out recruitment processes or become visa sponsors in a short space of time.
Several GP trainees in their final year of training have contacted the RCGP over the issue, said the RCGP in a letter sent to home secretary Priti Patel on 27 January.
In the letter, seen by Pulse, the college urged the Home Office to introduce a ‘flexible approach’ to tier 2 visa sponsorship throughout the pandemic to ‘ensure highly trained GPs are not lost unnecessarily’.
The letter said: ‘Many practices simply do not have capacity to undertake rapid GP recruitment or become visa sponsors, leaving newly qualified GPs at risk of deportation.
‘In addition, possible delays to the administration of sponsorship and visa applications can mean that even securing employment is not a guarantee of security for these GPs.’
Last summer, the Home Office allowed Health Education England (HEE) to extend visa sponsorship for up to three months – giving newly-qualified GPs time to secure employment after training.
This should be ‘restored and maintained for the duration of the pandemic emergency’, the RCGP said.
It added: ‘We would also support longer-term solutions which prevent a repeat of this situation, such as enabling NHS England to become a sponsor for GPs, thereby taking the onus off individual practices.’
The RCGP said it has already heard anecdotal reports of GP trainees arranging to move into non-GP sectors, which are better able to manage the necessary sponsorship after training.
It added: ‘Over recent years, significant time and money has been invested in GP training in order to help deliver the 6,000 more doctors that have been promised by the Government and that general practice urgently needs.
‘To lose even a single newly qualified GP because of administrative barriers would be counter-productive and would make it harder for general practice to deliver the care patients rightly expect.’
The Home Office has been approached for comment.
Last summer GPs raised concerns over a cut to the reimbursement of practices’ visa sponsorship costs for GPs from outside the European Economic Area (EEA).
GPs warned the loss of funding would deter practices from hiring GPs at a time when it was already ‘difficult’ to hire new staff due to pandemic-related pressures.