Visa Truths for Overseas Doctors

There has been a significant amount of publicity and media reporting over Australia’s apparent plans to remove medical professionals from the skilled occupation list. What does this really mean for GPs looking apply for a visa to live and work in Australia?  

Where did these concerns come from and are they warranted?

The London Financial times recently reported that Australia is tightening visa rules on foreign doctors. It was stated that the government had “flagged 15 health occupations, including medical specialists, which it wants to be removed from a skilled occupation list that provides eligibility for foreigners to apply for work visas.”

The Australian Medical Association’s response to this did nothing to dispel medical professionals’ doubts about their ability to get work down under. “International medical graduates have made a critical contribution to the medical workforce over the last 15 years. Although the situation is changing and they are finding it increasingly difficult to find jobs here,” said John Zorbas, chair of the AMA council of doctors in training.

This appears to be a blanket response to a specific issue whereby the nation saw a large intake of junior doctors from the UK who protested the new working contracts under the NHS. This influx of doctors created a shortage of internships within Australian hospitals. Undoubtedly, there is currently no demand extra intern doctors in Australian hospitals, but by no means does this equate to there being no demand for specialist GPs.

Visa Truths

  • In February 2016, AMA along with the ASA, RANZCOG, and ANZCA held a meeting with the Department of Education and Training, urging changes to the SOL (Skilled Occupations List). They asked for the review to consider more recent health workforce data that has been produced by the National Medical Training Network. This is likely to show an easing of workforce pressures across a number of specialities and the need to support domestic graduates in accessing pre-vocational and vocational training places.
  • Lobbyists like the Australian Medical Association and Rural Doctors Association of Australia may have strong opinions on the subject, but ultimately do not decide on SOL outcomes and are focused on the interests of their own members, not necessarily of the broader community. 
  • The 2017 SOL was released on Thursday 10 November, with General Practitioners included on the list. Whilst this may change in the future, it poses no immediate threat to overseas doctors with the appropriate qualifications who want to work in Australia.
  • Even if General Practitioners were removed from the SOL, this has no bearings whatsoever on 457 Visas, which is the most common pathway for GPs entering the country.

The Reality  –  ‘on the ground’

Adam Grey, migration specialist at Quick Visas, stated: “In my opinion, while it’s definitely an indication that medical occupations are moving in the direction of more restriction it’s very unlikely to have any effect for the foreseeable future and is mostly political posturing and union protectionism. It’s extremely unlikely to be removed from the SOL in 2017 and even if it was the impact will be barely noticeable as there are other options available.”

The reality is that skill shortages still exist (especially in non-metropolitan areas) and Australian healthcare relies on skilled migration.

Australian medical practices are often waiting at least 6-12 months to attract a vocationally registered GP.  These are not practices in tiny country towns hundreds of kilometres from a major city! Practices in large towns and the suburbs or our largest cities still struggle of attract GP’s. They know that UK trained doctors are high quality and will provide a consistent level of care within their practice.

Here at Alecto, we are speaking with at least 10 new practices per week, all desperate to attract vocationally registered GPs. Many of these are approved sponsors for 457 visas or are happy to apply to become a sponsor for the right doctor.

Regulations surrounding visas are always prone to change and if you are thinking of coming to Australia. It’s best to start making preparations as soon as possible, to ensure a smooth transition.

If you want to know more about Visas, contact one of our experienced consultants for a chat today.