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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.

Are you an international medical graduate? The AMA website provides a range of resources for IMGs. Looking for the right job? Visit Doctorportal for our comprehensive jobs listings, updated daily.

What the new visa restrictions mean for healthcare

Overseas doctors will still be able to apply for temporary work visas under tighter new visa arrangements announced this week, although details remain murky.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull 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.

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.

The number of job categories eligible for a foreign worker visa will also be reduced from the current 650 to 200.

Although foreign doctors remain eligible for these visas, many healthcare sector categories have been removed. These include medical administrators, nurse researchers, operating theatre technicians, pathology collectors, mothercraft nurses, first aid trainers, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health workers and exercise physiologists.

Doctors who are currently on 457 foreign worker visas will not be affected by the new restrictions, the government has said.

The announced changes have so far met with a mixed response from healthcare stakeholders.

Alison Verhoeven, CEO of the Australian Healthcare and Hospitals Association, said that neither she nor her organisation was consulted over the changes.

“Consultation with the sector is important so that the government actually understands the impact of the decision and the capacity to plan for change and be able to respond to it,” she said.

She added that the key issue was to be able to have healthcare staff right across the country, including rural and regional areas.

“I would suggest there aren’t people available in rural areas where 457 visas are being used,” she said.

The point was underscored by David Butt, CEO of the Rural Health Alliance, who warned that the changes could have an immediate impact on recruitment of healthcare workers in rural Australia.

Meanwhile the CEO of the Rural Doctors Association of Australia, Peta Rutherford, said “the devil would be in the detail” of the overhauled visa arrangements.

She noted that many rural communities would have no doctors working in them if it wasn’t for foreign doctors on 457 visas.

But the AMA has said it “cautiously welcomes” the changes, although it is seeking more detail and clarification of the possible impact on medical workforce changes.

The AMA says that although it has been advised doctors will still be eligible for the new visa, there is as yet little detail about medical specialties or groups.

AMA President Dr Michael Gannon says international medical graduates have made a huge contribution, but Australia currently has an “oversupply” of local medical graduates.

He says what needs to happen is that the “potentially thousands of extra doctors that we’ve got are deployed in areas where we need them”.

“The AMA is calling for a third of all medical students to come from rural areas,” he told Sky News.

“We want to see more positive experiences for junior doctors and medical students when they go to the regions. We know from evidence that that means they’re more likely to go and work in the bush later.”

Last year, 8242 foreign worker 457 visas were granted for the healthcare sector, with doctors among the largest applicant categories.