New rule to curb foreign doctor intake in Australia

Australia's Department of Health wants the government to stop granting visas to foreign-trained doctors.
Australia's Department of Health wants the government to stop granting visas to foreign-trained doctors.PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

Department of Health says there are enough locally trained doctors available for work

Australia's Department of Health wants the government to stop granting  visas to foreign-trained doctors, warning further intakes are no longer needed and  that locally trained graduates  may struggle to find jobs.

In a proposal largely backed by Australian doctors, the Health Department has urged an end to a long-running scheme that has attracted tens of thousands of doctors from around the world. 

The scheme lists a range of medical professions as in-demand jobs under the skilled visa programme and has long helped fill doctor shortages, particularly in rural areas. 

However, the department believes there are now enough locally trained doctors to fill the gaps.  

"As the number of Australian-trained doctors has increased substantially over the past decade, it's time to consider whether existing immigration markers are still appropriate for our health workforce needs," a spokesman for the department told The Straits Times.

An analysis in 2013 found that more than half of all medical practitioners working in Australia were foreign-born, including those trained locally.

"It should be emphasised, however, that overseas-trained doctors have been and will continue to be an important part of the health workforce."

Government figures reveal that there were 88,040 medical professionals in Australia last year, including  28,568 - or almost a third - who were trained overseas. About 65 per cent  were trained in Australia. 

An analysis in 2013 found that more than half of all medical practitioners working in Australia were foreign-born, including those trained locally. The largest numbers are  from South Asia, South-east Asia and the United Kingdom and Ireland.

The push to curb the influx of doctors was made in a confidential submission last year by the Health Department as part of an annual review of in-demand jobs. 

The submission, obtained under freedom of information laws by The Australian newspaper, called for 41 health roles to be removed from the list of skilled occupations - a list which allows people to apply for skilled migrant visas. The occupations which would be removed reportedly include general practitioners, resident medical officers, surgeons and anaesthetists. 

The Australian Medical Association, which represents the nation's doctors, has also pushed for changes to the skilled occupations list, saying the shortage of doctors in Australia has eased. 

The president of the association, Dr Michael Gannon, said the government should develop targeted incentives for attracting local doctors to rural areas rather than relying on "blunt legislative regulations that exist through the Immigration Department". He said Australia has needed overseas doctors for about twenty years but was now facing an "oversupply" in some areas.

 "(Overseas-trained doctors) have been a really important part of the jigsaw in a country that underinvested in medical students for a long period of time," Dr Gannon told ABC Radio on August 9. 

"But what we've seen now is that we've got a reasonable oversupply of GPs and other specialists in inner-metropolitan Australia. I think what we need to work harder on is investing in incentives to get doctors to work in rural areas." 

Dr Gannon said he was also concerned about the "moral question" of Australia taking doctors from developing countries which "have their own problems".

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 23, 2016, with the headline 'New push to curb foreign doctor intake in Australia'. Print Edition | Subscribe