Homegrown doctor Steve Lali won’t be returning to Merritt — at least not in the immediate future.

He told the Herald last month that he would like to come home to practice medicine, but that it was proving difficult.

After his wife, an American, ran into immigration issues, Lali has decided to act on job offers in Washington state rather than wait months to navigate through the paperwork required to establish themselves here.

Lali trained as a doctor in Poland and recently completed his residency in Miami, Florida.

“It didn’t work out, we’re going to have to stay in the States,” Lali said.

Lali also said it was going to take his wife — who recently finished her schooling to be a veterinarian — about four to six months to obtain a work visa.

This would have hindered her ability to take a job in Kelowna, he told the Herald.

Both have just finished school and are eager to start working to pay off debt.

Lali said it’s been his intention to one day move back to Merritt, but taking a job as a physician in the U.S. will now complicate that plan as he’ll probably buy into whichever practice he joins.

“Once you buy-in, get established — children come along — you don’t know what your future entails, but it was always my full intention to move back to Merritt,” Lali said. “But it depends now.”

Bad timing played a factor in the couple’s attempt to move to Merritt as the provincial nominee program (PNP) was temporarily closed when his wife found the Kelowna-based job.

The BC PNP is a provincial organization that assesses immigration applications and issues permanent resident visas to approved applicants.

Lali said one unfortunate aspect of this situation was a lack of recruiting help from the Interior Health Authority (IHA).

The IHA, however, said their hands were tied.

Speaking with Merritt city council at a committee of the whole meeting last Thursday (July 2) IHA executive medical director for the Thompson Cariboo Shuswap region Dr. Malcolm Ogborn said the issue of immigration was out of the health authority’s control.

Obtaining a medical license to practice in B.C. was also a hurdle.

Lali described this process as arduous, an said it would have taken until October before he could have started practicing medicine in B.C.

“When someone comes in as a foreign medical graduate — they did not train in Canada or a Canadian medical school — there are some steps they have to go through,” Ogborne said. “Those steps take time, people are made aware of those steps, but the time they choose to pull the trigger and start those steps is of their choosing, not ours.”

Ogborn said this was an issue in Lali’s case.

Merritt Mayor Neil Menard told Ogborn that he inquired with the IHA on how city council could help aid the couple, but didn’t receive a phone call back from the person he made contact with.

“We need doctors here and when we get something like that, I believe we should do everything we can to help that doctor,” Menard said.

Ogborn was in contact with doctor Lali and told him he’s willing to work with him and help him move to Merritt to become a doctor even if that means he works in the U.S. in the interim while they deal with the requirements of Immigration Canada.

“I think the perception that there was apathy about this or we were doing nothing about this is incorrect,” Ogborn said.

Lali still intends to pursue his B.C. medical license, but at the moment is concentrating on obtaining his medical license for the state of Washington.

“I don’t want to be the black eye or the black sheep of this and start whistle-blowing and saying this person’s not doing their job,” Lali said. “It’s not my business. Once they get their act together, hopefully, next time it’ll be smooth sailing.”