After engineers, Indian doctors win work status case in Britain (Lead)

April 30th, 2008 - 6:44 pm ICT by admin  

By Dipankar De Sarkar
London, April 30 (IANS) Britain’s highest law court Wednesday ruled in favour of thousands of Indian and other non-European doctors saying the government acted unlawfully in asking the state health sector to employ Britons and Europeans before others. The government attempt was dubbed “callous” and “appalling” by campaigners for the doctors, who said the judgement had come too late for those who had already left Britain and at least one who had committed suicide.

The House of Lords ruling favouring the doctors 4-1 is the latest by a British court annulling government attempts to make retrospective changes to its Highly Skilled Migrant Programme (HSMP) visa, and it was welcomed by campaigners.

“The House of Lords has vindicated our position that the government had acted in haste and prematurely without thinking through the damaging consequences for thousands of international medical graduates that it’s retrospectively applied unfair regulations were likely to impose,” said Ramesh Mehta, head of the British Association of Physicians of Indian Origin (BAPIO).

Britain sought out tens of thousands of skilled migrants, including doctors, engineers and IT workers from India, South Africa and other countries under the HSMP visa scheme beginning 2002, but made abrupt and back-dated changes four years later saying HSMP visa holders would have to requalify under stringent new conditions.

The changes threw tens of thousands of migrants, who had settled in Britain and raised families, into a state of uncertainty.

A separate campaigning group, the HSMP Forum, which represents not only doctors but also engineers and other professionals, won a similar High Court verdict April 4.

The BAPIO challenge concerned a ‘guidance’ by the British department of health asking the state-owned National Health Service (NHS) - Britain’s biggest health sector employer - to hire non-European doctors for training posts only if there were no suitable European or British candidates available.

The guidance is thought to have been issued in order to accommodate a surge in British medical graduates, as well as in qualified immigrants coming from European countries.

The changes have already forced a large number of Indian doctors to leave Britain and at least one doctor, from Pakistan, to have taken his life.

“Many careers have already been destroyed. However this ruling will give hope of fair treatment to the doctors who are still in the UK,” said BAPIO vice chair Satheesh Mathew.

His colleague Raman Lakshman added: “At this moment of victory we cannot forget those whom we could not help; those who had come to the UK to avail of permit free training but had that opportunity abruptly withdrawn, thus being put into such hardship that some ended their lives.”

Buddhdev Pandya, corporate advisor of BAPIO, said, “It is appalling that the government, despite having given so much weight to the concept of ‘consultation’, did not heed the advice given by voluntary organisations.”

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