Britain's health authorities are reconsidering recent changes in visa rules that in effect make thousands of doctors of Indian origin ineligible to work in the National Health Service.
The department of health (DoH) and the home office had put in place a new system by which employers would need to prove that no suitable candidate was available before applying for a work permit for someone from outside the European Union.
This change in the rules, in effect, ensured that thousands of doctors of Indian origin were sliced out of the employment market. Due to an increased number of British medical graduates qualifying every year and doctors from several new countries in the EU eligible to work in Britain, there is a surplus in the medical employment market.
The new rules have been challenged in the high court by the British Association of Physicians of Indian Origin (BAPIO) after representations to the DoH failed to elicit any response. BAPIO has reportedly raised 30,000 pounds from its members to mount a legal challenge to the new rules.
After the case was filed in the court, the DoH wrote to BAPIO stating that guidance to the amendment of rules was being reconsidered. BAPIO, however, has not yet withdrawn the case and is insisting on the changes being revoked or transition arrangements being made for nearly 4,000 doctors from the Indian subcontinent currently in Britain.
BAPIO president Ramesh Mehta told Eastern Eye, a British Asian weekly: "This could prove to be a turning point for the campaign. We hope the department will see the unfairness of the new rule."
A DoH spokesperson said: "As we stated in a letter to BAPIO, the guidance to the amendments to the Immigration Rules is currently being reconsidered."
Mehta said: "We are very upset that the DoH is taking its own time while our doctors are losing valuable training opportunities. Since April this year, employers have already started making EU and non-EU piles of applications and the latter are landing in the bin because of the new rules. Merit is not being considered. But we are confident of winning our case in court."
R Lakshman, consultant paediatrician at the West Suffolk Hospital and member of BAPIO's advisory council, said: "We believe that one-third of the NHS is run by doctors of Indian origin. While they form the backbone of the system, they are being treated as outsiders."
Solicitors associated with the BAPIO legal challenge say that a judicial review is being sought on the basis that the home office failed to hold a proper consultation process before introducing the new rule.