IMGs: are the options narrowing?
In the light of recent visa reforms and new calls to stem the flow of overseas doctors, international medical graduates (IMGs) may soon find it tougher to work in Australia, and harder to get permanent residency if they do.
Last April the government announced the scrapping of the 457 foreign worker visa system, to be replaced with a more restrictive two-year visa that doesn’t allow for eventual permanent residency. This potentially leaves some international medical students uncertain about their future and their ability to work in Australia after they finish their degree.
A second visa class, focused on strategic, long-term skills gaps, will have a four-year limit and will require higher standards for English language proficiency as well as mandatory labour market testing.
Months on, the details remain somewhat murky and the impact on IMGs unclear, but the AMA was advised recently that the mandatory requirement for labour market testing will include doctors.
This is likely to narrow the job options for IMGs, particularly as the government has also announced a provision of $93 million in incentives for agencies to recruit Australian doctors over foreign-trained ones.
For the moment, all medical specialties are listed in the new visa arrangement, but it’s far from clear how IMGs currently in Australia on a 457 visa might be affected should the list of approved occupations change in the future.
The Department of Health has previously recommended the removal of all medical specialties from the list of skilled occupations eligible for working visas, a position that the AMA supports.
Assistant Health Minister Dr David Gillespie has described the influx of overseas-trained doctors as “unsustainable” and is planning to curb the flow while at the same time making it easier for locally-trained medical students and junior doctors to do their training in rural locations.
Meanwhile, the RACGP is also calling for the government to stem the influx of IMGs, and has published a position statement to define the role of the rural GP. The College says many of the doctors working in rural and regional Australia do not have the appropriate skills, qualifications or support, and it calls for a new national rural generalist pathway.
RACGP President Dr Bastian Seidel said Australia should stop spending money attracting overseas-trained doctors and focus on training local graduates to care for rural patients, who are typically older and have more chronic conditions such as heart disease.
“We’ve imported doctors from overseas and just literally left them alone with minimal support in rural areas and we know that hasn’t really worked,” he told AAP.
It is estimated that Australia will have a doctor oversupply of 7000 by 2030, although there remains a significant shortfall in rural communities.