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Map updates said to be released in July 2019

DWS updates are released and communicated in February every year. As predicted, this year it seems to be different.

While no official communication has been released yet, we have been told by a Rural Health Workforce Agency, that DWS map changes will not be announced until July 2019.

In this communication we give you our perspective on recent developments and why we think DWS updates are delayed.

Tackling alleged oversupply

According to the Department of Health, General Practitioner numbers have increased at a much faster rate compared to population growth over the past decade. This growth, they say, is to a large extent, attributable to the large number of overseas trained doctors (OTDs) entering the country every year. In short, the Department projects an oversupply of around 7,000 medical practitioners by 2030.

In contrast to the Department of Health’s fear of oversupply, The Australia’s Future Health Workforce – Doctors report states that the medical workforce would be in oversupply to 2017 before dropping to undersupply from the early 2020s. The report also states: “This leads to an emerging gap between supply and demand of 2,500 in 2025 moving to a shortfall of 5,000 by 2030.”

What the Department of Health doesn’t seem to understand is the difference between medical practitioners and general practitioners. The latter forms part of the first, but an oversupply of medical practitioners does not necessarily mean there is an oversupply of general practitioners.

However, and to our dismay, the new Visas for GPs initiative clearly targets general practitioners.

Stronger Rural Health Strategy

In order to reverse the alleged oversupply of medical practitioners in major cities, the Department of Health has introduced the Stronger Rural Health Strategy. Under the new strategy they have launched the Visas for GPs Initiative to reduce the number of overseas trained doctors (OTDs) entering the country each year.

Due to the alleged oversupply in major capital cities and the shortage of medical practitioners in rural areas, the initiative aims at diverting more OTDs into rural and remote areas where there is greater need for them.

New visa sponsorship requirements for employers

As per the fact sheet released by the Department of Health in the last few days, employers sponsoring OTDs will be required to obtain a Health Workforce Certificate from a Rural Workforce Agency (RWA). This change is planned to come into effect on 25 February 2019. The purpose of this certificate is to confirm the sincere need to fill a General Practitioner position with an OTD. The certificate needs to be sent in alongside the application for an employer sponsored visa.

Health Demand and Supply Utilisation Patterns Planning (HeaDS UPP) tool

Due to the currently limited ability to analyse the workforce distribution and health service needs, a new tool called Health Demand and Supply Utilisation Patterns Planning (HeaDS) tool will be lodged by the Department of Health. While little is known about the new tool, we know that it will provide advanced and inclusive evidence to the Department to inform workforce planning and analysis. We do not expect to have access to this tool as we believe it will be exclusively for the Rural Workforce Agency.

Expected outcome – an informed guess

What happens with DWS is unclear at this point, however, the delay in the official DWS map update, coupled with launch of the named initiatives under the Stronger Rural Health Strategy leaves us wondering whether DWS will be abolished altogether.

We see a strong possibility that the new strategy to reduce the number of OTDs in metropolitan areas and diverting them to rural and remote areas could replace DWS upon successful testing of the new tools available. Hence we think DWS updates are delayed to allow the new tools to be tested.

Our prediction is that the new requirement for employers sponsoring OTDs will be delayed and will not come into effect on 25 February 2019, as planned. There is a chance that the Department of Home Affairs may work to block this new regulation, but it is equally possible that they will support implementation.

We made enquiries with several RWAs to find out about metro locations that will be approved under the new scheme, but it seems they have no details available yet.

Our advice in the current situation

Please note, the Department of Home Affairs have not endorsed the Visas for GPs initiative yet. From informal communication we believe they may see this as an interference with their policy work – and therefore may not agree. However, we would advise that you act as through these changes will be brought in and submit any nominations immediately so that you can avoid this extra requirement and we urge you to do this under the guidance of a good migration agent.

The general guidance provided by our migration lawyers, is that “A nomination application is valid for up to 12 months, meaning the visa application can be submitted at any point within this validity timeframe. In light of the proposed changes it may be prudent to submit any pending nomination applications prior to the proposed date for implementation where all other legislative requirements have been met (eg. LMT)”

We will closely follow the development and release new updates as soon as new information becomes available.