February 10, 2007

15,000 Indian doctors in UK set to return

Thousands of doctors from the Indian sub-continent have lost their seven-month-old legal challenge to the British government to force it to treat non-European Union medics in the UK "on a par and equally" with Europeans.

The net result is that at least 15,000 Indian doctors currently training in the UK may be forced to leave the country with their career paths thrown into confusion.

The British Association of Physicians of Indian Origin (BAPIO), which was the lead appellant in the case, told TOI just minutes after a verdict they described as "disappointing" that they were considering a legal appeal.

The lost legal challenge had been launched last June, nearly three months after Britain suddenly - and without consultation or warning - decreed that work permit-free visas would no longer be issued to non-European Union doctors, as had always been the case in the past.

On Friday, in a keenly-awaited decision handed down in the High Court in London, the Indian doctors were told by Judge that he agreed with only one-third of their arguments against the department of health and home office. Judge Burton said he agreed the British government had been lax in failing to conduct a race impact assessment of the new visa requirements for non-European doctors. A race impact assessment is required by Britain's stringent race relations laws.

In a sign of the anticipated knock-on effect of Friday's judgement, the ruling was described as "devastating" by at least 30,000 other Indians who lodged a legal case on February 6 to challenge the British government for allegedly disenfranchising non-European economic migrants invited into the UK under the Highly Skilled Migrants Programme (HSMP).

In Friday's ruling, Judge Burton crucially ruled that contrary to the Indian doctors' assertion, the British government was not required to consult with the affected parties before changing rules governing immigration, visas and work permits.

Amit Kapadia, coordinator of the 800-member HSMP Forum campaign group said the judgment was very disappointing because "if the British government is not required to consult with stakeholders before changing immigration rules, then what is the point of going to court?"

But BAPIO's head, Dr Ramesh Mehta, insisted the Indian doctors were keen to lodge a legal appeal as soon as possible to challenge Britain's treatment of them as "second-class doctors". But Mehta admitted BAPIO was strapped for cash after the lost legal challenge, which cost £ 56,000, including the services of a top-flight lawyer and Cherie Blair-ally Rabinder Singh. Mehta and Mathew said it was important for BAPIO to raise funds from Indians everywhere in order to "fight for justice".

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