If you’re an international medical graduate (IMG) considering coming to the UK to practise, you’ll first need permission from UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) to do so. Naveen Keerthi, founder of DOC2UK provides an overview of the UK visa process.
If you’re an international medical graduate (IMG) considering coming to the UK to practise, you’ll first need permission from UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) to do so. UKVI is part of the Home Office, which is the government department responsible for deciding which individuals from outside the UK can work, train or study here.
Securing a visa can seem like a daunting prospect, but here we answer some key questions you may have, explain the process you’ll go through, and share some of the best resources available to help you along the way.
It's worth saying up front that the UK visa process can take a long time – up to three months in some cases – so please be patient.
Do you need a visa to work in the UK?
This is the first question to ask yourself, and if you’re coming from inside or outside the European Economic Area (EEA), the answer is, yes. As a doctor coming to the UK to work in the NHS, you will require a Skilled Worker visa. This has replaced what used to be called the Tier 2 work visa.
Here is a really useful tool. Just enter a few details about yourself and your situation and it will confirm if you need a visa or not.
What to do before you apply for a visa
To be eligible to apply for a visa you’ll first need to demonstrate that your English language skills are at the required level. You can do this by taking the IELTS (international English language test system or the OET (occupational English test).
The most important document required to apply for Skilled worker visa (currently called Health & Care Visa for NHS employees) is COS. COS stands for Certificate of Sponsorship. NHS Trusts generate the COS through a Home Office portal after filling your details, and will do so after a successful job interview and you’ve accepted the offer.
What you need to submit for your visa:
1. COS (your certificate number + Sponsor’s License number + your salary. This document is valid only for three months and during this period you need to submit your Visa application in your home country.
3. Police clearance Certificate. You need to provide this document from any country where you lived for more than 12 months.
4. English language skills. The validity of IELTS or OET is two years. After which, you will have to sit the exam again.5. TB certificate. Details of where to get this certificate from is available on the UKVI website.
Finally, you will need to find a job. You cannot apply for a Skilled Worker visa without a job offer, as your employer will need to act as your sponsor throughout the visa application process.
How your employer can help
If you secure a job in the NHS, your NHS trust will hold a Skilled Worker Sponsorship License, which they’ll use to apply for a Certificate of Sponsorship in your name. Once you have this you can complete your application.
How to apply for your visa
The visa application process can be completed online. However, you’ll be asked to provide a lot of information during your application, and this includes:
• Your certificate of sponsorship reference number - your employer will give you this
• Proof of your knowledge of English
• A valid passport or other document that shows your identity and nationality
• Your job title and annual salary
• Your job’s occupation code
• The name of your employer and their sponsor licence number - this will be on your certificate of sponsorships.
Before you start, take the time to understand all the documents you’ll need to provide. Once you have everything ready, you can apply for your visa.
How much does the visa cost?
The cost you pay for your visa will depend on a number of factors. Again, these different costs are explained on the gov.uk website.
How long will a visa last for?
After five years, you may be able to apply to settle permanently in the UK, also known as ‘indefinite leave to remain’ status.
Bringing your family with you
Your ‘dependants’ – by which we mean your partner and children – can also apply to stay in the UK with you, and each person will have to submit a separate application. Read more about the criteria they will need to meet as part of their application. Bringing your parents to live in the UK is a little more complicated and there is no guarantee that this is possible. Here is the latest guidance on elderly dependant visas.
Other useful resources
The UK government website explains every step of the visa process, and it’s from here where you can apply online.
The BMA website has a whole section dedicated to supporting and helping international doctors with their move to the UK.
This website contains helpful information for qualified overseas healthcare professionals, including details about professional registration and immigration requirements.
About the author
Naveen Keerthi is an orthopaedic doctor, UCL Partner’s Innovation Fellow and NHS England’s Clinical Entrepreneur Mentor. His clinical background is in trauma, and he works for the Silverstone circuit as their trauma team doctor, covering events like Formula One and Moto GP races. He has a mini MBA from Stanford University.
While he was part of the NHS Entrepreneur Programme, he started DOC2UK.com (a digital recruitment platform) to connect NHS hospitals with overseas doctors. As an IMG doctor, he understands the principles of ethical recruitment and the intricate issues of a new doctor in a complex system like the NHS.