Indian doctors’ visa case reaches House of Lords

February 29th, 2008 - 12:00 am ICT by admin  

By Dipankar De Sarkar
London, Feb 28 (IANS) Thousands of Indian doctors stuck in the no man’s land between full work status in Britain and having to make way for Europeans are to get the full hearing of Britain’s highest law court Thursday. Five senior judges who are also members of the House of Lords - a select group known as the Law Lords - will consider the case that pits the British Association of Physicians of Indian Origin (BAPIO) against the government’s Department of Health.

The case concerns the status of thousands of doctors who are in Britain on Highly Skilled Work Permit (HSMP) visas. These doctors found themselves in a limbo when the British government made abrupt changes to the HSMP visas regulations in March 2006 in order to accommodate medical graduates from the 27-nation European Union (EU) region.

Without consulting HSMP visa holders, the Department of Health directed the country’s biggest health employer - the state-owned National Health Service (NHS) - to consider non-European applicants for jobs only if there were no suitable graduates from the EU or Britain.

BAPIO, arguing that the changes were unlawful, took the government to court. The organisation said doctors who were in Britain on HSMP visas were entitled to be treated on a par with British and EU applicants.

It lost the case in November 2006 but took it to the Court of Appeal, which upheld the Indian doctors’ case in October 2007.

The case has now reached the House of Lords because the Department of Health appealed against the 2007 ruling under unusual circumstances.

The Appeals Court had refused permission to the department to take the case to the House of Lords but it went directly to the apex court and appealed in the name of Minister of State for Health Alan Johnson.

“We believe we have a very strong case and we hope justice will continue to be done to overseas doctors in Britain,” said BAPIO president Rashmi Mehta.

Some 10,000 Indian doctors have applied for NHS jobs and awaiting the outcome of the trial. But the verdict could also affect another 3,500 Indians whose existing NHS jobs may be reviewed if the court rules against them, Mehta told IANS.

There are also several thousand non-Indian doctors from outside the EU whose future will be decided Thursday.

The Indian doctors’ case will be argued by prominent human rights lawyer Rabinder Singh.

“He was in Strasbourg till Tuesday arguing a case for the British government. Now he will be arguing our case against the same government,” said Mehta.

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