Australia relies on foreign GPs
Connie Levett and Tony Wright
The Age (Melbourne)
July 4, 2007
THE doctor arrested in connection with the British terror attacks, Mohammed Haneef, entered Australia on the controversial 457 visa program months after the Federal Government reduced its policing of it.
There are an estimated 5000 overseas-trained doctors who entered on the temporary visa plan working under supervision in Australia.
In the past year, 1200 doctors were given a 457 visa. Queensland Health is believed to have been the biggest user of the program.
“Health departments do it, and all the states do it, they can save a hell of a lot of money,” Australian Doctors Trained Overseas Association president Andrew Schwartz said.
The trend to employ overseas-trained doctors as registrars doctors who were close to qualification saved money because some of them had specialist qualifications in their own country, Mr Schwartz said.
He estimated that 40 per cent of about 50,000 doctors practising in Australia had been trained overseas. Of these, about 5000 were registered but required supervision.
There are several ways for doctors to immigrate to Australia. Doctors whose credentials meet Australian standards can apply for permanent residency but for those requiring supervision, the most common way to work here is through the skilled business, or 457 visa, program.
The Department of Immigration website directs doctors to the Temporary Business (Long Stay) visa (subclass 457), describing it as the preferred temporary visa pathway for them to enter Australia.
Before a visa is given the department makes standard character and security checks into prison records, convictions, political affiliations and military experience. If a candidate is red-flagged, intelligence agencies become involved.
“It is far easier for a doctor from England than from India to apply,” Mr Schwartz said. “And if you are a Pakistani doctor it is easier to apply (if you have worked in) England.”
Dr Haneef was recruited from Liverpool to Gold Coast Hospital on September 4 after he responded to an advertisement in the British Medical Journal.
If he had visited the hospital's website, he would have read about the many benefits of working in Queensland.
“We think you'll agree that the balance between working in one of Australia's best hospitals, and living and playing on the Gold Coast is hard to beat,” the website says.
“Does it feel like we're trying to entice you into working for us? Damn right we are!”
The hospital's home page advises potential recruits to click on the Gold Coast Tourism website to learn about life on the coast, with its kilometres of beaches, lush rainforests, golf courses and theme parks.
Dr Haneef would have learned a senior house officer earned $60,323 a year and a first-year registrar, which he could expect to become quickly, started at $74,327.