Soumitri Chakraborty, who works at the Midlands Medical Practice in Birmingham, has to prove she can speak proficient English despite years working in the UK treating thousands of patients – and previously passing a test with flying colours
A veteran GP fears the Home Office is going to throw her out of the country despite crippling staff shortages.
Soumitri Chakraborty believes she may soon be told she has to leave the UK and return to India, the country of her birth.
The Home Office is demanding the Midlands doctor, whose husband and daughter are British citizens, provide additional proof that she can speak English.
This is despite Dr Chakraborty having supplied International English Language Testing System results and proof of the three years she spent at the Royal College of General Practitioners in London.
Even though she has worked for the NHS for eight years and six years as a GP, the Home Office say her language documents are ‘not adequate’ and it’ll judge her efforts to stay in the country accordingly.
At the same time the profession is facing major shortages, with one doctor providing care for some 3,000 patients in some parts of the country.
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“(If the application is denied) I have to go back to India,” the 45-year-old told The Mirror.
“My husband and 10-year-old daughter both are British citizens, so how can I go back?
“I’ve been living in this country for the last ten years and working in the NHS for the last eight. I have been working as a GP for six years.
“If someone has dealt with the lives of 4,000 patients over eight years, how can you think they can’t speak English?
“I see 30 patients every day. I write 30 letters a day. How did you allow me to work in the NHS for eight years if I can’t speak English?”
Soumitri decided to come to the UK to ply her trade as a doctor after graduating from the prestigious Deendayal Upadhyay Gorakhpur University in Uttar Pradesh.
After spending three years earning her membership of the Royal College of General Practitioners, the mum-of-one started work as a GP at the Kenyon Medical Centre in Coventry before moving to the Midlands Medical Practice in Birmingham.
Knowing that she needed to extend her working visa, Soumitri sent off an application in March 2021.
After sitting on it for six months, in the middle of October the Home Office told Soumitri that her proof of language ability wasn’t adequate, because she’d taken the test more than two years ago.
When she had taken the exam the medic had achieved the second highest possible overall score.
A letter from the governmental department warned: “If we do not receive anything within 10 days we will make a decision on the information we already have.”
Soumitri has taken this to mean if she cannot provide the right paperwork before the end of the month, she’ll lose her right to work and live in the country.
“(If they) reject my visa application, I will have to stop working as a GP as well as leave the country or appeal against them and stay in the country for a short period but without any job,” she continued.
“I am under tremendous mental pressure.
“If this visa application gets rejected, I will have to go back to India leaving my daughter and husband here because they are British citizens.
“My 10-year-old daughter was born and is being raised in this country. She goes to school here.”
Soumitri has been unable to sleep for the past few days out of anxiety regarding the decision.
“The Home Office letters have shattered my self respect and practically broke down my confidence,” she said.
Soumitri is now pinning her hopes on a last minute English exam which she hopes, if passed, will be enough for the Home Office to let her stay in the country.
Having completed so many English tests during her decade in the UK, the latest one feels like a waste of time and money to her.
“Every time you do a new visa application you have to prove you can speak English,” said Soumitri, who is now applying for indefinite leave to remain.
“Even a second grade child could pass this test on Thursday. It is humiliating.”
Soumitri said she was left feeling “very, very angry” that she had to spend significant amounts of money on a complicated visa application back in the Spring, in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.
She didn’t hear anything back from the Home Office for six months after submitting it – time she was legally unable to visit her mother in India, who lives alone.
“This country embraced me so nicely, institutionally I have never felt discriminated against,” the doctor continued.
“The NHS took me on very nicely. I flourished in it. But whenever it comes to the Home Office, you don’t feel welcome.”
She added: “It is not a matter of money or taking another exam, it’s a matter of pointing out a flaw in the system which discriminates against people and asks for proof of English proficiency every single time they renew their visa without looking into their profile holistically.”
Soumitri is one of a large number of internationally trained GPs whose work helps form the backbone of local doctors services in England.
To have the pleasure of working here she has had to spend £10,000 on visa applications and £6,000 for medical conversion courses.
GPs trained overseas represent around 18% of the 35,500-plus GPs in permanent roles in England.
Concerns over Soumitri’s right to live and work in the country come as already pressurised services creek under increased demand and staff shortages.
The British Medical Association has warned that surgeries across the country are experiencing rising demand.
Despite this, there are now 1,803 fewer full time GPs working now than in 2015.
There are now just 0.45 fully qualified GPs per 1000 patients in England – down from 0.52 in 2015.
Having presided over the significant reduction in GPs, in February 2020 the government decided to try and reverse the trend by announcing a drive to recruit 6,000 extra by 2024.
The plan has so far failed, with the workforce actually retracting by 380 between September 2020 and August 2021.
The Home Office declined to comment.