Lords to rule on Indian doctors’ visa case Wednesday

April 28th, 2008 - 7:41 pm ICT by admin  

By Dipankar De Sarkar
London, April 28 (IANS) The fate of thousands of Indian doctors - the backbone of Britain’s state-run National Health Service - is to be decided at a ruling at the House of Lords Wednesday over their work status. More than 13,500 doctors, most of them from India, will learn whether or not their Highly Skilled Migrant Programme (HSMP) visa allows them to live and work in Britain when the country’s apex court hands down its ruling.

The British Association of Physicians of Indian Origin (BAPIO), a pressure group that is campaigning on behalf of the doctors, says the implications of the ruling go far beyond those doctors who are directly affected.

“The NHS (National Health Service) has for many years relied upon the contribution of doctors from overseas, and in particular the Indian subcontinent, in order to provide a quality service in times of shortage of UK doctors,” said Anthony Robinson of the solicitors firm Linder Myers, representing BAPIO.

“Now more UK graduates have been coming through but the Department of Health has failed to plan ahead and has unfairly been trying to get round the rights of HSMP doctors who have already made the UK their home.

“The guidance has drastic implications for the careers of many doctors working in the NHS, and BAPIO is hopeful that the House of Lords will agree with the Court of Appeal that the guidance is unlawful,” he added.

The case concerns doctors who came to Britain with HSMP visas under a programme that sought them out and allowed them to live and work in Britain.

However, in 2006 the Department of Health instructed the NHS - the country’s largest health-sector employer - that it could only hire non-European doctors for training posts if no suitable British or European candidates were found, leaving HSMP visa holders in a lurch.

The ‘guidance’ followed the expansion of the European Union into a 27-nation bloc whose citizens are guaranteed rights to work and move about freely among the member-countries.

Challenged by BAPIO, an appeals court overturned the guidance last year, but the Department of Health then took the case to the House of Lords.

BAPIO says the policy is unlawful and a violation of the human rights of those doctors who are under threat of having to leave Britain mid-way through their careers.

The doctors’ case is being argued by well-known human rights lawyer Rabinder Singh, who told the Law Lords in February the guidance went beyond just employment issues as it sought to change the terms of the HSMP without seeking parliament’s approval.

According to BAPIO president Ramesh Mehta, the guidance affects 10,000 Indian doctors who have applied for posts in the NHS and are now awaiting verdict of the House of Lords. In addition there are 3,500 others whose existing NHS jobs could be opened up to review.

More than 40,000 HSMP visa holders, mostly Indians, won a major victory in a similar case - involving not only doctors, but also engineers and other professionals - earlier this month when a high court allowed them to stay on and work in Britain.

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