RCGP demands ‘urgent national solution’ to address ‘nonsensical’ visa rules that are impacting on GP workforce

An urgent solution is needed to ensure all GP trainees from overseas are able to continue working in NHS general practice on completion of GP training, the Royal College of GPs has said today. 

In an open letter to the Home Secretary, which has been signed by 4,367 GPs and GP trainees, the RCGP has called for a reform of ‘nonsensical’ visa rules that act as a barrier for GP trainees from overseas to continue to work in the NHS, at a time when general practice is facing intense workload and workforce pressures. 

Currently, International Medical Graduates (IMGs) need to find a sponsor to obtain a visa to be able to practise in the UK after training. This is a problem specific to general practice as GP training is a three-year programme, while other medical specialties take at least five years, after which newly qualified doctors can apply for Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR). 

As a result, many GP trainees from overseas report difficulty finding employment in NHS general practice on completion of training, with some feeling forced to take roles elsewhere in the NHS and others considering leaving the NHS, and in some cases the UK, altogether. They also report considerable associated stress and anxiety. Over 40% of all trainees are IMGs and a recent College survey of them has found that around 30% of respondents find the visa system so difficult they are considering giving up on their plans to work as a GP in UK.

The College has suggested possible solutions to this problem including allowing all GPs to have their visa sponsored directly by the NHS or for them to be offered a similar scheme to the current Graduate Visa allowing them to stay in the UK following completion of their training course.

The College previously wrote to the Home Office in May. However, the response put the onus on GP practices to become Tier 2 sponsors, which many GP employers report has significant financial and bureaucratic implications for practices. 

In the College’s latest letter to the new Home Secretary, Suella Braverman, RCGP Chair Martin Marshall writes: “The RCGP has been working with the NHS bodies across the UK to support IMGs and to help practices register as sponsors. While this has helped, we are still hearing that some IMGs are struggling and therefore we need a national solution to ensure all trainees are secure in their immigration status during the difficult transition between training and becoming a fully-fledged GP.”

He continues to call on the Government “to ensure visa rules for international trainee doctors do not act as a barrier to expanding our workforce.”

Alongside the letter, the College has also sent the Home Secretary a copy of its new report, ‘Fit for the future: Opening the door to international GPs’, which includes the testimonies of GP trainees and employers about how this issue is impacting on their lives and careers. 

Commenting further on the issue Prof Marshall, said: “GP trainees from overseas are effectively being penalised and potentially being forced to leave the UK because their GP training lasts just three years, not the five years needed to obtain a visa that gives them indefinite leave to remain.

"At a time when general practice is experiencing the most severe workload pressures it has ever known, it is nonsensical that the NHS is going to the expense of training hundreds of GPs each year who then face potential removal by the Home Office because of an entirely avoidable visa issue. These bureaucratic immigration rules are not fit for purpose and without a resolution, we could potentially lose thousands of desperately needed newly qualified GPs from the workforce in the future. These rules need to be updated to accommodate the needs of people who are qualified and willing to work in general practice delivering patient care.

 “If all GP trainees from overseas were offered the chance to apply for indefinite leave to remain in the UK on successful completion of GP specialty training, they would be able to join the GP workforce, providing much-needed care to patients, and helping to alleviate pressures right across the health service.

"We cannot afford to lose this expertise and willingness to work in the NHS, delivering care to patients, due to red tape.”

Further information

RCGP Press office: 0203 188 7659

Notes to editor

The Royal College of General Practitioners is a network of more than 54,000 family doctors working to improve care for patients. We work to encourage and maintain the highest standards of general medical practice and act as the voice of GPs on education, training, research and clinical standards.