Inquiry to cut migration red tape for rural health needs

22 May 2023

Written by: Samantha Smith

Australia is losing rural and regional medical talent due to drawn-out processes.

Healthcare in rural and regional areas may be at risk more than ever before, due to the strict regulations placed on international medical graduates.

A government inquiry has been requested by The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) to cut migration red tape that is holding back international medical graduates from practicing in Australia.

RACGP Rural Chair Associate Professor Michael Clements presented recommendations at the Joint Standing Committee on migration to recruit and keep IMGs, and to aid overseas doctors to complete GP specialist training.

These included a better approach to processing applications to reduce administrative burdens, funding for internationally trained doctors, and greater support to attract IMGs in regional locations.

Clements says the core of Australia’s rural GP workforce must be supported by fair and straightforward processes.

“Australia is losing too many potential rural and regional GPs to other countries because of our slow and painful processes,” he said.

“At the same time, we’re hearing about practices that have been forced to close because they cannot replace GPs who are retiring or moving on. Meanwhile, international medical graduates are stuck in the process for up two years or more.”

He says Australia should be the destination of choice for international medical graduates but promising talent will be lost to other countries due to red tape, duplication, and long processes they have to deal with.

“International medical graduates make an enormous contribution to rural general practice – more than half of Australia’s GP earned their medical degree overseas. We should be welcoming qualified GPs with open arms.”

The RACGP is seeking a commitment from the Department of Home Affairs, AHPRA, and Medicare to work with them to fast-track applications for GPs planning on working in areas of need.

Clements says the government should reinstate the RACGP’s Fellowship Support Program which ended in 2022, as it is a straightforward step to restore general practice in rural Australia.

“We need to incentivise, not compel, GPs to work in rural and regional areas. Currently, we require international medical graduates to work for 10 years outside the major cities. The RACGP does not support this 10-year moratorium and we believe it should be reviewed. It’s a well-intentioned policy, but it’s out of touch with the reality of rural practice. It can sound sensible to compel international medical graduates to work outside cities, but evidence from Australia and Canada shows this often just results in them leaving as soon as possible,” he said.

The RACGP says there is more competition than ever to recruit overseas-trained GPs, and it makes it more important to improve the system to attract, recruit and attain IMGs while maintaining a high standard of care.

PHOTO | Rural scenery in Australia with round hay bales by Tatters is available HERE and used under a creative commons license. The image has not been modified.