20 May 2009

Tier 1 (skilled migration) reforms unfair on medics: BMA

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The Tier 1 (skilled migration) reforms for the UK immigration system have been flagged by the British Medical Association (BMA) as a recipe for disaster, reports the BBC News.

The Tier 1 General Skilled Migration category allows skilled workers to migrate to the UK to work in their nominated skilled profession provided their UK visa application passes a points test.  The changes to Tier 1 mean that now only those who have a master's degree – rather than a bachelor's degree – can apply for a Tier 1 skilled visa.  Otherwise, their previous job's salary needs to have amounted to at least £20,000.

Because of these reforms to the Tier 1 system, overseas doctors will not be able to apply for the next stage of training after their first two years of working in the UK.  The medical degree is classed as a bachelor's degree, and very rarely do junior doctors complete a master's degree after spending five years completing their undergraduate course.

According to the BMA, the reforms will result in the loss of junior doctors who have already started their training in the UK, as well as all those studying in the UK under the Tier 4 category.  The BMA said this would not only lead to an even bigger shortage in doctors working in the NHS, which was banking on the junior doctors replacing the baby boomer generation that is due to retire, but that patients will suffer as well as a result of a lack of professionals working in the industry. 

BMA chairman Dr Hamish Meldrum has spearheaded the campaign to protect foreign doctors from UK immigration reform, because this is not the only change to take place that will affect the medical industry.  From August, junior doctors will be limited to a 48 hour working week, as part of the European working directive.

"The full implementation of the directive coupled with a situation in which a proportion of prospective trainees can no longer continue with their training due to ever-tightening immigration rules is likely to exacerbate rota gaps, putting patient safety at risk," Dr Meldrum said.

"The BMA is requesting that the Department of Health intervenes."

The Department of Health and the Home Office said in a joint statement that the reforms would reflect the needs of the British economy and would not affect the NHS or patients.

"Our Australian-style points based system means only those we need come here to work.

"It is also flexible so we can raise or lower the bar according to the needs of the labour market and the country as a whole."

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