Doctors’ groups welcome visa changes

3 minute read

Visa changes may lead to improved targeting of international doctors to address future shortages

GPs will remain on the list of skilled occupations for new immigration arrangements to replace the 457 visas abolished by the government.  

A total of 1116 GPs were granted visas under the 457 category in 2015-16, down sharply from a peak of 1988 in 2007-08, according to immigration figures.  

Doctors’ groups welcomed the changes revealed in a surprise announcement by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull on Tuesday, but said they had yet to grasp the full details.  

A new Temporary Skills Shortage Visa will have tighter conditions and make it slightly harder to progress to permanent residency, which has been a chief attraction of the 457 category.  

AMA President Michael Gannon said international medical graduates (IMGs) had made a huge contribution to plugging workforce shortages in rural areas while Australia built up a locally trained health workforce.   

 “But we still need to have the flexibility to ensure that under-supplied specialties and geographic locations can access suitably qualified IMGs when locally trained ones cannot be recruited,” he said.

Importantly, current 457 visa holders would not be affected by the new policy, he said.

“Many communities would not have doctors if it were not for the excellent work of IMGs,” Dr Gannon said.

Mr Turnbull said the 457 system of employer-sponsored visas had “lost credibility”.  

More than 24,000 of the visas were issued last year.

The visa system, which applied to more than 600 occupations, has been widely criticised for alleged fraud, lax supervision of employment conditions, and underpayment of workers’ entitlements.

Rural Doctors Association of Australian President Dr Ewen McPhee said he agreed that the system needed fixing, though he doubted the changes would have any significant impact on rural medicine. 

“I think it was a good call,” Dr McPhee said, expressing a personal view.  

“I think the 457 visas were inconsistent and open to abuse and placed both doctors and communities at risk.  So any programs that get better-skilled doctors to appropriate places is a good thing.” 

Along with general practice, a raft of other medical specialties are also on the revised list of 183 highly-skilled occupations eligible for a four-year visa under the new system, which still offers a possibility of permanent residency.

 Separately, some 430 occupations will be eligible for two-year visas and no prospect of permanent status.  

“Existing 457 visa holders will continue on the same conditions they have now. It is important that doctors with these visas who have been working hard towards permanent residency are not disadvantaged,” Dr Gannon said.

“The AMA welcomes the emphasis of the new arrangements to better target recruitment and the mandatory requirement for labour market testing, which the AMA has been calling for in light of the significant increases in locally-trained medical graduate numbers.”

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