As the court hearing on the detention of Indian doctor Mohammed Haneef continues in the Brisbane Magistrates Court, the Queensland government is set to launch an advertising campaign discouraging discrimination against overseas-trained doctors.
There are an estimated 5,000 overseas-trained doctors working under supervision and under the 457 temporary visa scheme. In the past 12 months 1,200 doctors have been given visas under the scheme and Queensland Health is understood to be its biggest user.
Queensland Health Minister Stephen Robertson told a parliamentary estimates committee on Wednesday that he was concerned that Haneef's arrest may scare away international medical graduates from Queensland.
Robertson told the media: "It's also why we're developing an advertising campaign to encourage the broader community to show support for the over 2,150 overseas-trained doctors working in both public and private health facilities in Queensland."
The arrest of the 27-year-old Indian national has put the focus on overseas-trained doctors and the 457 work visas. Under the 457 visa programme, skilled migrant workers are allowed temporary entry to Australia to take up specific jobs with sponsor employers who cannot fill the positions locally.
Doctors have been able to apply for the Temporary Business Long Stay visa (subclass 457) since April 2005.
Many doctors who have qualified overseas have migrated to Australia, especially since 1970. Forty percent of all doctors in Australia are overseas-trained and almost 15 percent of overseas-trained doctors are Indians.
"It is important for all Queenslanders to understand that Australia has not trained enough doctors, nurses and allied health professionals to meet the demands of the public and private health systems and our growing and ageing population," Robertson added.
Asking the community to be tolerant, he said, "It is time, however, for Australia to show the world and our overseas-trained doctors that they are welcome, we do value their contribution and that racism and bigotry have no place in our hospitals or the wider community."
Queensland has a doctor shortage like other states and territories who say it is "due to the federal government's failure to train enough doctors".
Robertson said, "However, in light of recent events, the challenge now is to ensure Australia remains an attractive destination for international medical graduates keen to pursue careers, and access the world class training and education opportunities on offer, not just in Queensland but throughout Australia."
About 3,000 foreign medical graduates are allowed into Australia every year, many of them under the 457 Visa scheme. The department of immigration website points doctors to the temporary business (long stay) visa (subclass 457), describing it as the "preferred temporary visa pathway for doctors entering Australia.
It allows applicants to take advantage of streamlined visa processing arrangements, including the ability to lodge applications over the Internet using a special online application form.
(Neena Bhandari can be contacted at email@example.com )