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Australian-Indian doctors a sad lot

They are concerned UK terror episode may put a cloud on their years of dedicated work in this country.
IANS | By Neena Bhandari, Sydney
UPDATED ON JUL 15, 2007 12:17 PM IST

As media attention on "Indian doctors" refuses to wane even after two weeks since Muhammad Haneef's detention for the British terror plot, Australian-Indian doctors are concerned this episode may put a cloud on their years of dedicated work in this country.

Hemchandra Rao, former president of the Overseas and Australian Medical Graduates Association (OAMGA), told IANS: "OAMGA members are deeply hurt by the adverse impact of publicity on Indian doctors, who have been working and helping the health services in Australia for decades."

OAMGA has appealed to the state and federal departments of health to protect the integrity of doctors of Indian origin.

Media reports on Haneef and others (some are not even doctors) are "damaging the reputation of all doctors of Indian origin and even their children who are doctors. Unfortunately, the patients are unable to differentiate the honest dedication of Indian doctors because of the adverse publicity. The government must take necessary steps to protect our status and reputation or else the stigma attached to us by this episode may create unwanted doubts in the minds of patients", says Rao, a specialist general surgeon who migrated to Australia in 1978.

The doctors say they were just recovering from the damage caused by Jayant Patel, known as "Dr. Death" who has been charged with manslaughter. The latest episode has once again put "Indian doctors" in the news for all the wrong reasons.

Siddlingeswara Orekondy, who migrated to Australia 31 years ago from Mysore, said: "I have been very upset with an email read out on talkback radio where one listener said India and Pakistan are both terrorist countries and the radio host implied that while Pakistan is doing something about terrorism, India is not. Misinformation is putting our country and all Indian doctors under a cloud."

Many doctors, who have qualified overseas, have migrated to Australia especially since 1970. Forty per cent of all doctors in Australia were overseas trained and almost 15 per cent of overseas trained doctors in Australia are Indians. A large proportion of these doctors hail from the Indian subcontinent.

Shailaja Chaturvedi of Hindi Samaj told IANS: "It is high time the media stopped identifying people's religion and nationality. This episode will have huge implications for 'Indian doctors' here and those aspiring to migrate here from India. But I am hopeful that the status we have enjoyed as competent professionals would continue."

About 3,000 foreign medical graduates a year are allowed into Australia, many of them under the 457 Visa scheme.

The Department of Immigration website describes this class of visa 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".

Doctors have been able to apply for the Temporary Business Long Stay visa (subclass 457) since April 2005.

"The Haneef case will have a significant impact on the 457 Visa or permanent residency visa applicants. They will probably have to go through much more rigorous checks, which would delay the processing time and frustrate applicants from the sub-continent. Intake from these countries may also decrease," says Jyoti Bharati, a solicitor and migration agent.

From 3,700 in 1995-96, the number of Indian migrants jumped to 11,286 in 2005-06, reflecting the growth in the skilled migration programme. In 2004-05, the skill stream of the migration programme had an outcome of 77,880 people. This increased to 97,340 in 2005-06, representing about 68 per cent of the migration programme.

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