AMA President, Dr Rosanna Capolingua, said today that recommended changes to the 457 visa program for temporary foreign workers, including doctors, would assist in making the system more secure through greater scrutiny of the character and qualifications of applicants.
Dr Capolingua said the proposed decision to adopt stricter character checks and publish details of monitoring and enforcement activities would help to restore community confidence in the 457 Visa program.
"Thousands of overseas doctors and nurses enter Australia every year and State Health Departments are among the biggest users of the program," Dr Capolingua said.
"Given some of the well-publicised incidents involving overseas trained doctors in recent years, the AMA is very keen for the 457 Visa to be used with appropriate character reference and police checking.
"We support the call to implement improved national skills assessment processes for overseas trained doctors and for character and security checks to be consistently applied across the 457 Visa and the 422 Medical Practitioner Visa.
"However, we must remember that with doctors it is also necessary to check their credentials, primary medical qualifications, work experience, medical indemnity history, medical registration, colleague references, and suitability to work in a particular clinical environment, prior to them being recruited into Australia.
"This scrutiny needs to be undertaken by medical peers who have at primary interest the clinical safety of Australian patients. Any agencies recruiting doctors, including governments, need to be registered and accredited, and the AMA is prepared to work with governments to ensure that doctor recruitment is given this priority.
"Such action would also protect the standing and reputation of the thousands of overseas trained doctors who are vital to the Australian health system from any fallout from actions of unfavorable individuals that may slip through the process.
"The proposed visa changes will assist in addressing some of the issues the AMA raised in its submission to the Migration Committee."
In response to the Committee Report, the AMA:
· wants closer examination of below market salary benchmarks that encourage the exploitation of overseas trained doctors, and discourage employers from making a genuine effort to recruit Australian trained doctors
· welcomes the recommendation for urgent implementation of national standards for the skills assessment of overseas trained doctors, which COAG wanted in place by December 2006, but which have been delayed by the NSW Government
· welcomes the Committee's finding that occupational trainee visas are potentially being abused, and that these should be thoroughly investigated
· welcomes the recommendation to establish a more confidential complaints process for 457 Visa holders, as most Visa holders are too scared to make a complaint currently as they are worried their employer will withdraw sponsorship, forcing them to leave.