UK immigration officials refuse to allow NHS dentist to keep job in Scotland
"There is something very wrong with the migrant workers scheme which would turn away a badly-needed dentist working in an area like Fife, which has one of the country's biggest recruitment and retention problems."
Shona Robison, SNP health spokeswoman
A FOREIGN dentist keen to carry on working in Scotland's critically understaffed dental service is being forced to return to her own country because immigration officials do not consider her to be a "highly skilled" migrant.
Despite having the offer of a permanent job from her current employers in Fife, officials have told Siddhika Sathyamoorthy that because, among other criteria, she did not earn more than 27,000 last year or have a highly- qualified husband or partner, she will not be allowed to remain in Scotland.
Ms Sathyamoorthy, 24, came to Scotland last year after hearing about the Scottish Executive's push for foreign dentists to deal with the nation's dentistry crisis.
An Indian national, she graduated in dentistry from Sheffield University last June, before moving to Templehall practice in Kirkcaldy, where she has now completed her one-year vocational dental programme training.
Although her employers are keen to keep her on at their surgery, which was officially opened last year by the Chancellor, Gordon Brown, she was told in June that her application to extend her visa had been refused.
Last night, opposition politicians criticised the decision as being governed by red tape and contrary to the government's policies for recruiting dentists to work in Scotland.
Ms Sathyamoorthy has appealed against the judgment made under the Highly Skilled Migrant Programme, but had her application refused.
"I'm disappointed, very disappointed to be honest. I have a British degree and I love working here and get on well with the patients. I want to stay in Kirkcaldy and stay in the NHS.
"My employers, Richard and Fiona McFadzean, have been fantastic and have gone out of their way to help.
"It frustrates me that I'm qualified but being stopped from working in an area which is crying out for health workers. It's actually quite upsetting."
It was when she applied to have her visa extended, in order to remain in Fife, that Ms Sathyamoorthy was informed by the Home Office that she did not have enough "points" to stay in the UK under the Highly Skilled Migrant Programme.
"I got a letter saying an individual must score 65 points or above in six scoring areas and that my score was too low. I'd scored 15 for academic achievement, zero for work experience, as this is taken over two years, zero for my earnings, as you have to earn at least 27,000 per annum and I was at just over 23,000.
"I also got nothing for 'achievement in the chosen field' which refers to having academic papers published. I got nothing again for not having a skilled partner but did get five points for being under 28."
Mr McFadzean, who runs six wholly-NHS surgeries, said he had a job waiting for her and that he had experienced great difficulty recruiting dentists to work in Fife.
"Siddhika is a very good dentist. She's been with us for a year and it would be a shame if we lost her. She gets on with the patients and is very trustworthy," he said. "There's a job there for her if this problem can be sorted out. I advertised in the British Dental Journal in June for a dentist and only got two applications. One didn't turn up and one came up from London.
Mr McFadzean and his wife co-partner in the practice. They said they had found it impossible to get through to the Immigration Office on the telephone before approaching the local office of Mr Brown, who is MP for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath.
"Gordon Brown's aides have done their best to help but it all seems to come down to being an immigration problem which the people in London are not dealing with properly.
"Immigration is a bit of a hot issue politically and I think Siddhika's papers have gone to someone in immigration who has just ticked boxes without reading the whole thing through."
Shona Robison, the SNP's health spokeswoman, said there was "something very wrong" in turning away a dentist in an area facing severe recruitment problems.
Scotland is facing a dire shortage of dentists and hundreds of thousands of patients are without access to an NHS dentist.
Latest figures released in June revealed that while Scotland had 2,367 dentists, it fell short of requirements by 120. The shortfall is not expected to disappear until 2012.
The surgery is in an area officially classified as a DepCat area by the government meaning it is an area of high deprivation, unemployment and poor health.
In February, the Scottish Executive held a ministerial reception for a delegation of 40 Polish dentists specially recruited to help with the shortage. The dentists, who signed contracts for a minimum of three years, are now working across Scotland, including Fife.
But because Ms Sathyamoorthy comes from outwith the European Union she must meet different criteria.
Ms Robison said: "There is something very wrong with the migrant workers scheme which would turn away a badly-needed dentist working in an area like Fife, which has one of the country's biggest recruitment and retention problems.
Nanette Milne, the Conservatives' health spokeswoman, said: "This is not to the benefit of patients. It also appears to be a very harsh judgment when we are desperately wanting to hold on to dentists and attract and keep younger ones.
"I would advise this young woman to appeal to the highest level."
Dr Andrew Lamb, the British Dental Association's director for Scotland, said: "Scotland has a well-documented shortage of dentists. As figures published in June by NHS Education Scotland show, that shortage looks set to continue for years to come."
A spokeswoman for the Scottish Executive said: "People have to work within the rules set down regarding immigration before they come to work in this country. We have no powers over immigration. This woman should get her MP to take up her case."
A spokeswoman for the Home Office said: "We cannot comment on an individual case. An announcement on the points-based system was made in March followed by changes to the immigration rules in April."
Fears over talent gap that needs plugging
FACED with worries over population decline and chronic skills shortages, Jack McConnell, the First Minister, has spearheaded a number of policies to encourage skilled immigrants to stay in Scotland.
In 2004, Mr McConnell launched the Fresh Talent Initiative, which allowed foreign students to apply to extend their visas by two years after finishing their degrees.
So far, about 600 overseas students have successfully applied for the scheme to help them gain work experience.
In March this year, the Home Office granted Scotland special dispensation in plans for a new points-based UK immigration system to tackle the predicted future shortage of skilled workers north of the Border.
The Scottish Shortage Occupation List, separate from the UK list, should make it easier for skilled workers to come to Scotland to fill specific labour needs.
The then home secretary, Charles Clarke, also reduced the time some immigrants have to stay in Scotland before being granted residency to two years - half the time needed in England and Wales.
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