This site is intended for health professionals only

RCGP raises ‘extreme concerns’ about closure of NHS visa support service

RCGP raises ‘extreme concerns’ about closure of NHS visa support service

RCGP is extremely concerned about NHS England’s decision to close a visa support service for overseas GPs coming to practise in the country.

From 31 May, international medical graduates (IMGs) looking to obtain long-term visas will have to deal directly with the Home Office which risks making the process ‘more challenging’ with the potential to create anxiety and confusion for those affected, the RCGP said.

NHS England said the changes are being made in response to the closure of the Primary Care Workforce Team but support would be available via the Home Office.

The national matching service provided for newly qualified GPs seeking roles at practices able to offer visa sponsorship will also come to an end, the announcement said.

Instead, regional teams and ICBs will need to determine whether they continue to provide this service to newly qualified GPs in their area.

Practices looking for guidance on visa sponsorship should also be aware that there will be no further updates to resources on the GP Workforce Delivery Scheme Hub, NHS England said.

Existing resources to help guide GPs through the process will be available on an interim basis but practices should be aware they may become out of date if Home Office processes change.

RCGP vice chair Dr Victoria Tzortziou-Brown, said: ‘We are extremely disappointed and concerned at the closure of this service, which has provided important support over the last few years.  

‘Our IMGs make an incredible contribution to the care of patients in general practice and the wider NHS.

‘We should be giving them all the support and security they need, not bringing in changes that have the potential to make processes more challenging, with the associated anxiety and confusion that this may bring for the doctors who are impacted and their families.’ 

Dr Tzortziou-Brown said they would be raising concerns with MPs and asking for reassurance from the Home Office that cases will be dealt with speedily and efficiently. 

But she added it was also more important than ever that a wider solution is found to allow recently qualified GPs to obtain long-term visas to remain working in the UK.

‘Unlike with other medical specialities with five-year training schemes, international doctors are not able to apply for indefinite leave to remain after they finish their three-year GP training course in the UK, and instead they must find short-term sponsorship from an individual practice with a licence.’

The RCGP is calling for the Home Office to revise current rules to allow GPs the right to apply for indefinite leave to remain after three years in the UK, or a five-year visa at the start of their training.

‘The recently introduced four-month visa “grace period” for newly qualified GPs to apply for these visas after they finish training is welcome, but it does not go far enough.’

An NHS spokesperson said the Home Office has a dedicated NHS Visa team to assist with queries and issues.

‘International medical graduates will still be able to get support with their visa applications but the responsibility for visa support is being transferred directly to ICBs from 2024/25.

‘We have significantly increased the number of practices that hold visa sponsorship licences meaning that there are now many more employment options for newly qualified GPs requiring visa sponsorship.’

Last month it was announced that GP practices employing international medical graduates would no longer need to renew their visa sponsorship licence.

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.