NHS doctor facing deportation because 'she can't speak English'
The Birmingham GP has been sent home from work due to stress
Soumitri Chakraborty moved to England in 2010 with her husband. They’d married in India, and decided to start their life together in Birmingham.
For eight years Soumitri practised medicine in the NHS, qualifying as a family GP in 2019.
Everyday she sees 30 patients, writes 30 letters, observes countless bloods and speaks on the phone to secondary care at regular intervals.
But according to the Home Office, she can’t speak English.
“My husband is a British citizen, my daughter is a British citizen" Soumitri tells me. “I’ve been working in the NHS for over 10 years and after everything, they say I need to prove I can speak the language.
“Over the years I’ve seen thousands of patients. The Home Office thinks I’m responsible enough to deal with thousands of lives, but can’t trust me enough to speak proficient English”.
Soutmitri applied for indefinite leave to remain in April. Five months and £2,600 later, she was told her application would not be taken forward.
The Birmingham GP describes the process as humiliating.
On Monday, she was sent home from work as an on-call general practitioner due to stress.
She speaks to me mid-afternoon, “I should be at work, but I don’t have thick enough skin for this. I can’t sleep, I can’t eat, I can’t concentrate”.
Her mother, a widow, lives in India. Soumitri is unable to visit her. She says: “If I leave this country, I won’t be able to come back in”.
Home Secretary, Priti Patel, is being urged to grant health workers the right to stay in the UK to honour the life-saving role they played during the coronavirus pandemic.
Health and social staff, with non-permanent visas, are hoping a private members bill, due for its second reading this Friday, could offer them immigration security.
The bill, sponsored by Liberal Democrat MP Christine Jardine, calls for migrant healthcare workers to be offered indefinite leave to remain. A fast-track citizenship programme designed to thank frontline workers was launched by the French government back in December 2020.
Christine Jardine is urging the Home Office to consider permanent status for frontline workers. Jardine says the move would be a fitting “thank you” for health workers who have risked their lives to support the UK’s Covid response.
Writing in The Scotsman on Saturday, the Lib Dem said: “Given all they have sacrificed, the very least the Home Secretary could do is offer thanks by granting all NHS and social care staff indefinite leave to remain in the UK”
Campaign group Doctors’ Association UK have helped 30 doctors and families threatened with deportation in the past year. A figure they say is a “fraction” of the total number.
Vice-chair Dolin Bhagawati believes the Home Office’s strict immigration targets are having a detrimental impact on NHS staff; he said: “Applicants are swept up into numbers, individual finer points like occupation aren’t picked up on”.
He says people receive a frightening Home Office letter, pack up, and leave before disputing.
Last September, cardiologist Dr Basem Enany fell seriously ill with COVID-19. While the Egyptian doctor was on a ventilator, his wife and four daughters were facing an uphill battle to renew his visa before his work contract ended in November.
For two agonising months, Enany and his family were not sure they would be allowed to stay in the UK.
The Home Office granted a visa extension in December, which a spokesperson promised "will not affect their pathway to indefinite leave to remain, to allow him to recover".
But extending a temporary work visa is not the same as granting indefinite leave to remain.
Doctors’ Association UK, alongside the Royal College of Physicians, Royal College of Nursing, Independent Age and Unison are backing the private members’ bill.
Soumitri will take another English exam in pursuit of indefinite leave to remain, but is debating whether to continue the process at all.
“How much do they expect us to go through just to live in this country?” she said.
The private members bill, which could offer doctors like Soumriti immigration security, will have its second reading in the House of Commons this Friday.
The Home Office said: "We are currently awaiting further information on this case."
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