Saturday, February 10, 2007

Non-EU Doctors in UK

Around 50K doctors in UK are affected by the new ruling of UK government which forbids them to take any long term employment and as a result essentially forcing them out of UK. When one considers the original context of how these physicians landed in the first place in UK – based on UK government program to encourage immigration of doctors outside UK – it is astonishing how UK government changes rules of the game in the middle. Granted that any sovernieng state has the right to implement immigration policy as it needs, but changing rules once immigrants have made decisions of their lifetime is wrong. If these doctors were some kind of a security threat, it is a different matter and then there is some ground for the state to change the rules. But that is not the case here. UK government first encouraged these doctors to come to UK, but now with changes in rules forcing them to hold the empty bags. Careers of these doctors have gone down the drains and they are likely to loose productive professional years in this turmoil. It simply reminds what one reads in old history books of newly independent commonwealth countries like India – how mean and exploitative British were as the Colonial Power. (Of course, historical accuracy of those text books has been always in doubts.)

Couple of things are happening here – it is unclear whether UK government actions are result of solid political weight of existing National Health Service workers. Until proven otherwise, first suspicion is behind the screens these native workers are pulling the strings to force the government to undertake such convoluted policy position. Current ruling party of UK - Labor – is quite likely to be beholden to the vested interests of existing largely native work force. Next is the real possibility of racism as the motivating factor behind these policy changes. This policy is taking a shield behind EU and is banning non-EU doctors. What is so great in a doctor who is educated in Romania so that that doctor is superior to a Lahore or Mumbai educated doctor? This whole thing has a strong odor of racism. In so many other cases UK government does not follow EU guidelines or policies; then why here? Why cannot UK government is more enlightened in accepting doctors regardless of their origin as long as their competence or skill set is of certain standard?

This brings the next question – why in the first place these physicians were allowed if UK government and political powers did not have consensus about their qualifications and skill sets? It is nothing new to find professionals with low quality education from the Sub Continent. But that is the case everywhere. The why in the first qualification criteria were not well defined so that there is kind of unshakable acceptance and trust for the professionals who come to UK possessing upon passing those criteria? Is it too much to expect from states like UK to be able to make informed opinions about professional competence of doctors from all over the world? If British Babu’s to do not have that procedure well adopted; UK government is not worthy to live as a leading nation in today’s globalized world of 21st century. What good does it do to the country and to the immigrant doctor if you tell that doctor that she can not be gainfully employed after all the tough choices of career and life are done?

And that is the larger lesson – those who need immigrants, those societies can not be racist in discriminating people, must make it very clear who can come and who can not, must make it clear from the outset how long these immigrants can stay and by and large should encourage permanent immigration only. A society should welcome new people only if that society is very sure of finding good home for the new comers. Immigration is for the benefit of the host society as well as benefit to migrants. Hence, all these modern states need to have maturity in making this process clean, transparent and win-win to all parties.

May be with more immigration coming along the road, there needs to be a global mechanism to address these issues in quick and fair manner. May be to include Labor in future WTO trade talks cannot be postponed for long. This need not be necessarily loosing proposition for host countries (read predominantly Western countries and Japan). Transparency is the key. Upfront clarity of rules is vital to set expectations of everyone involved. Clearly UK government is failing in this with an egg on their face. Unfortunately, there is a sense that UK government gives damn to the uproar caused by these shameless actions with total disregard to anything good in British tradition.

Does it make sense for the Indian Government to talk to UK Government in this regard? Considering the fact out of these 50K non-EU physicians, 30K are Indians or of India origin; Indian Government should do all that is possible. With growing economic pie of Indian market, Indian Government has lots of levers which it did not have in the past. Further, going forward it should also make it very clear (educate) to all those migrating Indians, about under what immigration programs they are going outside of India. State is there for taking care of its citizens and this particular public education program is vital in country like India where many more will migrate to so many parts of the world. These migrants are basis of deeper political relations with those countries and some minor investment to nurture this constituency will go long way. Organizing NRI mellas where only rich NRIs who can dispense money for FDI, is easier part of External Affairs. Getting into nitty gritty of problems like faced by these doctors in UK is the harder part. How about our beloved ‘May Bap’ Indian Government showing some sense as an adult? Involvement as a mature State on equal political footing by Indian State is badly needed in this case.

Umesh Patil
Cupertino, CA 95014
February 10, 2007.

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