Indian doctors in Britain lose legal battle against immigration changes
By Prasun Sonwalkar,
London, Feb 9 (IANS) Thousands of doctors of Indian origin Friday lost their legal case against changes in immigration rules that made it difficult for them to gain employment in Britain's National Health Service.
The changes to the rules were announced in March 2006 and came into force on Apr 3, 2006. The changes had abolished permit-free training and made it mandatory for doctors from outside the European Union to obtain a work permit to gain employment in the NHS.
Lord Justice Stanley Burton of the High Court of Justice of Queen's Bench Division did not accept that there were sufficient grounds to support the claim that the changes in the immigration rules announced on March 7, 2006 or the subsequent guidance given by the Department of Health was unlawful.
The case was filed by the British Association of Physicians of Indian Origin (BAPIO), which represents the large number of doctors of Indian origin working in the NHS. It was filed jointly with Imran Yousaf, a doctor who had been affected by the changes and who reportedly committed suicide recently.
Raman Lakshman, BAPIO's vice chair (Policy), told IANS: "This we believe will have devastating and profound impact on thousands of IMGs whose hopes for progressing on a better career path are dashed. Many will have to return to their country of origin with disappointment about the NHS.
"BAPIO is disappointed that the verdict has provided no relief to thousands of International Medical Graduates whose careers are being destroyed by the new Immigration Regulations which came into force on April 3, 2006.
"We are surprised that the court does not agree with us that the Department of Health guidance misrepresents the effect of the Immigration Rules and it is an illegitimate attempt to amend the rules, thereby circumventing the requirements of section 3(2) of the Immigration Act 1971".
However, the BAPIO said that verdict gave some comfort about the Home Office not complying with the requirements of the race relations legislation and the acceptance that no consultations were held before the changes were announced.
Lakshman said: "It is however, disappointing that the Judge concluded that there was no obligation on the Government departments to consult. It leaves voluntary organisations such as ours, in some serious doubts about genuineness of consultations that are designed to encourage greater engagement for influencing policy development".
Commenting on Yousaf's death, the Voice of Britain's Skilled Immigrants (VBSI), a forum campaigning against various changes to immigration rules affecting a large number of professionals, most of them Indians, said:
"On the day when the verdict in the case initiated by Dr Imran Yousaf (and BAPIO) is to be announced, it is very saddening to have learnt of his suicide apparently instigated by the turmoil caused by the Home Office's refusal to grant him a further leave to remain in the UK. We send our deepest condolences to his family and friends".
The immigration changes had created alarm and panic among thousands of doctors from outside the EU, particularly those from the subcontinent. Until then, doctors from outside the EU, including from India, were able to take up NHS jobs under what was called 'permit-free training' schemes.
Their jobs were considered part of training that did not require work permits. Thousands of Indian doctors were employed under the scheme and were usually hired for short-term periods of one or two years. The doctors would need to find new posts after their term expired.
But from April 3, 2006, it was made mandatory for employers to obtain work permits before employing these doctors after making a case to prove that no British or EU doctor could perform the same job.
This rule effectively ruled out any chance of employment for non-EU doctors. The employment situation for Indian doctors was anyway very difficult, with thousands of them unemployed and reduced to living in miserable conditions and availing themselves of free food served in temples and gurdwaras in London and other parts of Britain.
Raman Lakshman, vice-chair (Policy), said: "International Medical Graduates, a majority of whom come from the Indian subcontinent, have been the backbone of the NHS for many decades. The new rule treated them despicably and with no concern for their welfare. This was always morally wrong and we are disappointed that this has not been found to be legally wrong.
"I do not see a future in the UK for young doctors from India who are not already in a training programme. We would ask young doctors to consider very carefully their options and not damage their careers by taking up jobs that will not lead anywhere."
Ramesh Mehta, President of BAPIO, thanked the many hundreds of doctors who had helped raise funds needed to fight the case. "This is a very sad day. This was a fight to uphold the self-respect of International Medical Graduates in the UK. We would like to thank our legal team lead by Rabinder Singh.