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Health Workforce Certificates no longer required for IMGs


Matt Woodley


19/09/2023 6:44:07 PM

The removal of a ‘ridiculous’ piece of red tape placing pressure on rural and remote general practices has been welcomed by the RACGP.

International medical graduate with patient
The policy change removes another layer of bureaucracy for international medical graduates seeking to work in Australia.

The Federal Government has removed a layer of red tape that has frustrated international medical graduates (IMGs) and rural general practices for years by ending the Visas for GPs program.
 
Initiated in 2019, the program required sponsors to submit a certificate verifying that they had been unable to recruit a local healthcare worker despite trying for at least three months, in an effort to reduce the number of IMGs entering Australia over a four-year period by 800.
 
The policy was brought in due to concerns about an oversupply of GPs; however, as pointed out by then-RACGP Rural Chair Associate Professor Ayman Shenouda at the time, maldistribution was a far greater issue than overall GP numbers.
 
And with Australia still in the grip of an ongoing GP shortage in rural and remote areas, current RACGP Rural Chair Associate Professor Michael Clements has welcomed the ‘common-sense’ move to help ease the pressure on struggling practices.
 
‘This certificate was really ridiculous,’ he told newsGP. ‘It was like nobody recognised that there is actually a national GP shortage in remote areas – we had these extra delays and barriers.
 
‘I had to apply for it myself [as] I’ve got clinic in a remote area … so this is definitely good because it’s an elimination of one of the steps that used to be in place.’
 
According to a joint release from Immigration, Citizenship and Multicultural Affairs Minister Andrew Giles and Federal Health and Aged Care Minister Mark Butler, the requirement ended on 16 September, but any applications received prior to the cut off will be processed in line with the existing program guidelines.
 
The changes are in line with key recommendations contained in the interim report of the Kruk Review, and Associate professor Clements says he is looking forward to seeing more moves aimed at getting GPs into rural and remote areas.
 
‘The Kruk review is about reducing unnecessary delays and box ticking and this is certainly a box that no longer needs to be ticked,’ he said.
 
‘The next have to do with the way that the different agencies handle paperwork. We’d like to see things like central coordination of records for example, so that doctors have to do less paperwork when they’re applying, but also when they send in copies of transcripts and awards and so forth.
 
‘We need to see the final report and we do want to see it take into account feedback from all of the colleges, including ours.’
 
Minister Butler said the Government is ‘determined’ to help overseas healthcare professionals smoothly enter the Australian workforce without reducing safety or quality.
 
‘We need to be very clear with patients and with the medical profession that we won’t compromise on our very strong standards that we have here in Australia. But there are things we can do to reduce red tape,’ he said.
 
‘To attract international health professionals in a highly competitive global market, regulatory settings need to be fit for purpose, competitive, and not impose unnecessary barriers, while preserving patient safety standards and quality of care.
 
‘This initiative does all these things, improving the efficiency and effectiveness of the end-to-end regulatory journey for internationally qualified health practitioners.’
 
Meanwhile, Minister Giles said assessment times for ‘decision-ready applications’ have been reduced from around a month to 1–2 days, and that visa applications for healthcare workers, including GPs, are ‘still the highest priority’.
 
Associate Professor Clements said it is ‘pleasing’ that the Government has responded to RACGP advocacy and advice around the issue.
 
‘We’ve had obviously a good [Federal] Budget this year as well as promises to address this [issue], and this step represents meaningful, progress, progressive action, so we’re pleased to see it and be a part of it,’ he said.
 
‘These are definitely things that we’ve brought up in our meetings and with the [Health] Minister’s office and we’re very pleased to see that they’re listening and responding.
 
‘It seems like a small step … but that’s still a change so it is good that they’re taking these steps and making the effort.’
 
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