Dodgy doctors use visa loophole
By Darrell Giles
June 13, 2004
FOREIGN doctors with suspect medical and criminal records have used a loophole in Australia's immigration laws to work in the nation's hospitals.
They have applied for a specific visa and requested a stay of only 11½ months.
Background character checks were not required for applicants wanting to stay less than 12 months.
Sources told The Sunday Mail these doctors took leave near the end of their first 11½-month working term in Australia, departed the country and applied again for another stay of the same length.
"No checks on their character are done – this is most ridiculous," the source said.
A spokesman for Federal Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone said 2496 foreign doctors were granted medical practitioner visas in 2002-03. Of those, 698 requested stays of less than 12 months.
The spokesman said the Immigration Department had moved to close the loophole. Officers would have to request police clearances from doctors seeking second stays of under a year.
He said foreign doctors must provide proof of medical registration regardless of how long they wanted to work in Australia.
Queensland Liberal Party deputy leader Bruce Flegg, a medical doctor of more than 25 years, said the immigration loophole "terrified" him.
Dr Flegg raised concerns in Parliament last month about overseas-trained doctors who had failed primary school-level English tests working in Queensland.
He said a report to Queensland Health highlighted examples of foreign doctors registered by the Medical Board who were found to be unfit to practise within one public hospital, but remained registered and worked in another.
More than 1600 doctors from Third World countries come to Queensland each year.
The Australian Medical Association of Queensland's Dr Marsh Godsall said he was aware of doctors requesting stays of less than a year, but believed it was done for speed – "the number of hoops these people have to jump through is absolutely amazing" – and most foreign doctors were competent.
The Sunday Mail (Qld)