By Dominic Casciani
BBC News community affairs
Thousands of trainee doctors from abroad have been "betrayed" by a sudden rule change, say campaigners.
Indian doctors: Feel betrayed
New immigration rules mean most non-EU doctors can no longer complete NHS training without work permits.
Hundreds of doctors have protested outside the Department of Health on Friday, saying the changes potentially leave thousands jobless.
But the government says it is protecting posts for UK graduates as supply of doctors outstrips demand.
For decades, graduates from overseas medical and dental schools have come to the UK to complete two years of training in junior NHS posts. Some of these posts were specifically reserved for overseas doctors.
The work permit-free deal was set up to help the NHS make up numbers and rapidly expand its provision. Historically, this led to doctors from countries including India playing a key part in the NHS's growth - comprising up to 70% of all doctors in some areas of Britain.
But under the new rules, introduced suddenly this month, these doctors and dentists will no longer be able to automatically seek training placements.
Hospitals must prove they cannot recruit a junior doctor from Britain or the EU before they can shortlist candidates from other countries.
Ramesh Mehta: "Absolute betrayal"
The change has led to widespread protest by doctors' groups and even lobbying of ministers by the Indian High Commissioner.
The British Association of Physicians of Indian Origin (Bapio) says at least 15,000 doctors may have to leave the UK heavily in debt and without having completed qualifications, despite having been encouraged to come to the UK in the first place.
Many of these are already unemployed because of shortage of available training posts.
"A lot of new, budding doctors enthusiastically seek to complete their training in Britain because of the opportunity to support the NHS - and the knowledge they can then take to their practices in their home countries," said Dr Ramesh Mehta of Bapio.
"They sell their homes, take out loans and leave their families behind to work in Britain. The change in rules is an absolute betrayal. Many will now return home with debt but no diploma, no qualifications."
The British Medical Association, the professional association for doctors, accused the government of changing the rules without any regard for welfare. It said at least 9,000 doctors in short-term junior and senior house officer grades would be affected.
"There is definitely a need for a new system where the number of doctors coming to the country is based on the needs of the NHS, but what the government is doing is unfair on the doctors who are already here," said Dr Jo Hilborne, chairman of the BMA's Junior Doctors Committee.
But a spokesman for the Home Office, responsible for immigration rules, said transitional arrangements drawn up with the Department of Health would apply to some of those affected. Junior doctors and dentists in current training posts would be allowed to complete those placements.
Overseas doctors who had attended British medical schools would not be subject to work permit restrictions for their final two years.
Health minister Lord Warner told the BBC's Today programme the change was necessary as competition for jobs grew.
"What we have done is make sure that we are becoming more self-sufficient in training our own doctors," he said.
"There has been a 70% increase in the number of medical school intakes over the last seven or eight years and we have to find and ensure that there are post graduate specialist training posts."
The Royal College of Physicians said that while it understood the need to limit the arrival of overseas doctors, the government had gone about it the wrong way.
"The college recognises the contribution of [overseas] doctors has often been undervalued and their aspirations undermined," said a spokesman.
"They now hear a message that they are no longer needed or wanted and that their commitment to the NHS has counted for little.
"On completion of their training, many doctors returned home to practice. The spread of medical skills learnt in the UK is a tradition that we have reason to be proud off.
"It is difficult to see how this can be maintained under the proposed arrangements."