October 31, 2008 / 6:30 AM / 9 years ago

German doctor sparks Australia immigration row

CANBERRA (Reuters) - A German doctor refused permission to live permanently in Australia because his son has Down Syndrome, on Friday promised to fight the decision as an immigration row erupted over his future.

Bernhard Moeller came to Australia two years ago with wife Isabella and three children to work at the Wimmera Base Hospital in rural Victoria state, and was given a temporary visa to help plug a critical doctor shortage in Australia.

But immigration officials refused permission for the Moellers to settle permanently because youngest son Lukas, 13, failed health tests and was judged by officials as likely to be a permanent drain on taxpayer funding due to his condition.

“I think they just use my skills as long as it is necessary, but they don’t welcome my family,” Moeller told Reuters.

Moeller, from Bad Driburg near Cologne, supervises intensive care for a community of 54,000 people. He said he was told by officials he was unwelcome because he had a mildly disabled son. Lukas is able to attend a normal school and play sports including cricket and football.

Moeller is the second German doctor to run into recent difficulties with Australian officials.

Thomas Kossman, chief trauma surgeon at a major Melbourne hospital, was suspended last year and accused of over-billing and carrying out complex surgery he was untrained for. Kossman says he is the victim a witch-hunt orchestrated by jealous rivals.

Australia has a critical doctor shortage, particularly in regional and rural areas. Many foreign doctors and nurses have been employed in the over-stretched health system.

Moeller’s plight prompted thousands of public Internet and radio complaints from across Australia on Friday. Immigration officials defended their handling of the case, saying the family could seek intervention from Immigration Minister Chris Evans.

Health Minister Nicola Roxon said she would immediately speak to Evans about reversing the decision, and was supported by powerful Victoria state government Premier John Brumby.

“We understand the importance of having doctors working in our rural and regional communities,” Roxon said.

Editing by Valerie Lee

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