The Government has announced that international medical graduates (IMGs) will be granted a four-month visa extension after completing GP specialty training from autumn 2023.
This new policy comes as part of the primary care recovery plan, published today, which includes proposals to build general practice capacity with more new doctors.
In the plan, NHS England said ‘over half of doctors’ in GP training are IMGs, but due to the three-year length of GP training these doctors ‘are typically not eligible for indefinite leave to remain’, which requires at least five years working in the UK under the skilled worker visa.
Without indefinite leave to remain (ILR), IMGs must be employed by a practice with a visa sponsorship licence in order to continue working in the UK.
The recovery plan also said that, working with the Home Office, ‘NHS England will continue to increase the number of GP surgeries holding visa sponsorship licences’.
In March, the BMA wrote to immigration minister Robert Jenrisk calling for a six-month ‘grace period’ for IMG GP trainees which would ‘help alleviate some of the stress and anxiety’ experienced at the end of their specialty training.
The Health and Social Care Committee’s workforce report, published in July last year, called for all IMG GP trainees to be offered leave to remain in the UK after completing training, and for a ‘default visa extension’ for six months after their expected completion date.
The Government’s response to this report last month said it agreed ‘in principle’ with the recommendations, however failed to specifically address the visa issues.
The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) then confirmed to Pulse that it was ‘working with the Home Office’ to ‘explore all possible solutions’ to the visa challenges faced by this cohort.
Today’s recovery plan said: ‘GP numbers are not where we would like them to be, and it will take time for higher training numbers to work their way through.
‘We will do more to bring new doctors into general practice, retain those working today and encourage recent leavers to return.’
It pointed to the long-awaited NHS workforce plan, to be published ‘shortly’, which will ‘set out our ambitious plans to significantly expand GP specialty training and ensure the NHS can recruit and retain the GP workforce it needs in the future’.
On IMG GP trainees, the plan said: ‘Working with the Home Office, from autumn 2023 government will introduce an additional four months at the end of a visa for newly trained GPs to remain in the UK and NHS England will continue to increase the number of GP surgeries holding visa sponsorship licences.’
Around 30% of IMG GP trainees responding 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.
NHSE had expected to be allowed to sponsor doctors during the two-year gap between completing specialty training and gaining ILR, but could not reach an agreement with the Home Office.
The recovery plan also announced proposals to enable patients to get prescription medicine directly from the pharmacist without the need for a GP appointment for seven common conditions, and pledged £240m funding for practices to move away from analogue systems to digital telephony.