An Overseas Doctor’s harrowing experience of UK Immigration

An anonymous account from a UK doctor on visa who was detained by UK Home Office after the Home Office delayed to issue his COS in time.

It’s fine.
I have a legitimate job offer.
I’m a key worker.
I’ve studied and trained in the UK
I’ve been in the UK for close to a decade.
I’m just here to visit and fix up my living arrangements before applying for my visa.
I’m sure they’ll understand.

That’s what I had thought.

Until I found myself in detention at the UK border.

Several months before, as I booked my flights in advance to get back to the UK to start a new medical job, I kept reassuring myself with similar thoughts. I tried to ignore the fact that the health board was taking forever to get my certificate of sponsorship issued; despite my regular reminders, and with few replies on their end.

As the number of days to my flight and my new job decreased, the certificate of sponsorship was still nowhere in sight. The niggling worry at the back of my mind slowly grew.

Flying without a work visa, I thought: I’ll just come in with a visitor’s visa first to sort out my living arrangements. I’m sure they’ll understand. I need to settle in so that I can start work the minute the visa is issued. The NHS as a civil service/public institution would not let me work without one, the border control would understand that.

Instead they said I was at risk of starting work without a visa. I was detained at the border, with my mobile phone taken away from me for several hours. I was informed that I would be put on the next available plane back to my last port of call, which was a city in Europe and nowhere near my home country.

I remember how completely surreal it felt, like a living nightmare.

Thanks to friends who rallied support from MPs, DAUK, and my union the BMA, I was able to have the deportation order rescinded with extraordinary difficulty. Unfortunately not everyone is so lucky to be that well supported.

As it is, being a NHS doctor is hard enough with the pressures currently on the system, let alone adding on the worry about your right to legally remain in a country.

And the sad part is that I know I’m not the only one. I have other non-UK colleagues who speak of the pressure of waiting for visa extension decisions long after their current visa has expired. Of being unable to leave the country to visit their loved ones for fear of not being able to get back after. I’m sure many readers who are also overseas workers have their own experiences to share.

The government repeatedly declares that they’re supporting and fixing the NHS. Do they forget, for instance, that approximately 25% of doctors working in NHS England are non-british nationals?

Having the threat of detention and deportation over one’s head does little to help with making the UK an appealing country to come to work. I personally know of several excellent colleagues who previously had planned on working in the UK but feel it is no longer worth it and have returned home.

If the UK government truly believes they are doing the right thing to address the workforce shortage in the NHS by attracting qualified healthcare professionals from overseas, then they need to sort out fundamental issues such as the visa application backlog, and making it easier to get indefinite leave to remain.