While this guide is written for English providers, immigration rules apply to the whole of the UK and we envisage the guide will be relevant to providers in other areas of the UK. There is more detailed official guidance available which providers are also encouraged to look at.
How to use this guide
This is a bite-size guide to help you to explore and maximise opportunities that overseas recruitment offers.
There is more detailed official guidance available which providers are also encouraged to look at.
It is envisaged that you will dip in and out of it as you work your way through the different steps. Real life examples are included to help you to learn from the experience of others. They are included as snapshots within the guide with links to longer versions to read at your leisure.
What are the benefits?
Other social care providers have said that overseas recruitment can offer:
- a loyal, committed workforce
- lots of transferable skills on arrival
- high retention rates
- a future supply chain as overseas employees tell family and friends how great it is to work for you
- succession planning for the future as overseas recruits progress in time to more senior roles.
Is it for me?
Overseas recruitment is not for everyone and isn’t a quick fix. It’s a serious commitment that places significant responsibilities on you, the employer. That said, the providers that have contributed to this guide have said the benefits outweigh the challenges, cost and effort involved.
The following are 'must haves' for overseas recruitment. If you can’t answer yes to each of the questions below, you’re not ready to get started yet.
- Do you have real, funded permanent vacancies for roles that pay a minimum £20,480 or £10.10 per hour (based on 39 hour week)?
- Do you have the right capacity in place to support the whole process? You’ll need people in your organisation who will take responsibility for the end to end process from ensuring you’re compliant with the legal requirements through recruitment to supporting your new employees to settle in the country and in your organisation.
- Is overseas recruitment part of your long term workforce plan? Get it right and your new recruits are likely to stay with you. They’ll grow and develop with you and help you in recruiting from overseas more easily next time round.
- Are you and your organisation committed to making overseas recruitment work for you? Becoming a sponsor is a serious commitment. The reality of the process is that it takes time, it can feel frustrating at times and you'll have an ongoing duty of care for people you recruit.
How do I do it? Legal requirements: what you need to know.
Requirements on you as an employer
You’ll need a sponsor licence to employ someone to work for you from outside the UK. This process is managed by UKVisas and immigration (UKVI): Work in the UK
A sponsorship licence is described by the Home Office as a ‘privilege and not a right’ and can be revoked at any time.
There is a Code of Practice for International Recruitment that applies to the appointment of all international health and social care personnel in the UK, including all permanent, temporary and locum staff. As an employer it is important to familiarise yourself with this.
Steps to getting a sponsorship licence
1. Check your business is eligible.
To get a licence as an employer, you cannot have unspent criminal convictions for immigration offences or certain other crimes, including fraud or money laundering. Or had a sponsor licence revoked in the last 12 months.
You will need to show that you have systems in place to monitor sponsored employees and people to manage sponsorship in your business. Sponsorship of a skilled worker can only be undertaken by a business. Individuals cannot be Home Office sponsors for the purposes of a skilled worker visa.
2. Check if your job is suitable for sponsorship.
‘You can sponsor a worker if the job they’re going to do has a suitable rate of pay and skill level, or meets the other criteria needed for their visa.’
To qualify for a Health and Care worker visa the following requirements need to be met by the worker:
- be a qualified doctor, nurse, health professional or adult social care professional - Skilled Worker visa
- the job is eligible for a Health and care worker visa.
- be working for a Home Office approved UK health and care sector employer.
- paid the minimum salary or the ‘going rate’ for the type of work you’ll be doing - whichever is higher
3. Decide who will manage sponsorship within your business.
There are three different roles identified by UKVI, but they can all be fulfilled by the same person. You will need to appoint someone within the organisation to manage the sponsorship process via the Sponsor Management System (SMS) and act as a single point of contact with UKVI. The SMS is UKVI’s primary method of communication. It can build in delay if these are not identified early or changed during the process.
The roles are:
- authorising officer – a senior and competent person responsible for the actions of staff and representatives who use the SMS
- key contact – your main point of contact with UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI)
- level 1 user – responsible for all day-to-day management of your licence using the SMS.
4. Applying for sponsorship licence
There are a number of supporting documents that will be required as part of the application process, these documents will evidence your suitability to UKVI. What you are required to provide will vary depending on what type of organisation you are. The requirements for most non-public sector social care providers are set out in table 2 of the Government Guidance. Getting these documents right at an early stage can help the process run smoothly. Tip: Once collated, save them somewhere easily accessible as you may be asked to submit them again further down the line.
The process should take eight weeks to complete, but it can take longer if there are requests for clarification and additional information from UKVI. To seek clarification a case worker may contact you through the SMS, by phone or arrange to visit. All of this can extend the process.
The application costs vary depending on size of business from £536 for an organisation employing 50 or less with assets under 5m to £1476 for larger organisations.
UKVI offer a priority service which is currently limited to 10 organisations per day. This operates on a first come first serve basis and costs £500. This service can turn around applications within 10 days.
Learning from provider about the application process: Case study: Clifton Homecare: Recruiting overseas for social care providers in England
Some providers choose to use a solicitor to manage the application process on their behalf. This can help in getting the application right the first time, but the process does not require legal expertise. The decision on whether to use a solicitor comes down to capacity and resources. Do you have a person in the business who can take this forward?
When assessing the application UKVI will want to see evidence that it is a genuine vacancy that fits within the rules. Also that your organisation is aware of the roles and responsibilities of sponsorship. These need to be demonstrated in the application, which is why the supporting documentation is so important at this stage. The advice from the UKVI is “read the guidance, be clear about what you want and be clear to us in your application”.
- Make contact through the UKVI email address
- UKVI will send a link to the SMS to invite you to upload documentary evidence. Sponsor guidance appendix A: supporting documents for sponsor applications gives a full list of the documents required.
- Case workers will consider your application.. They will be looking at what the prospective employee will be doing, how they fit into the structure of the organisation/ business and how they will fit moving forward over four years. If there are no requests for clarification/ further information you will not hear anything until the end of the process.
- You should expect to be contacted by SMS in eight weeks.
- Once you have a licence, you will also need a certificate of sponsorship for each person you intend to recruit.
The Sponsorship Licence runs for four years, this enables you to recruit within the agreed business plan. For each worker employed you will also need a Certificate of Sponsorship. A number of these are issued in line with the request made in the licence application.
5. Certificate of sponsorship (COS)
The Certificate of sponsorship relates to the workers who are linked to the sponsorship licence. There is one certificate required for each worker. A number are issued when the sponsorship licence is granted and they are then reissued annually in line with the agreed business plan.
If additional Certificates of Sponsorship are required at any point applications can be made via SMS. Information about how the additional recruitment supports the business plan and how the new recruits fit into the structure will be required.
Applying for additional Certificates of Sponsorship will take 13 weeks. Unused Certificates of sponsorship expire after three months. Timing is a consideration when planning an additional recruitment campaign. Leaving it late to apply for certificates could mean waiting extra time before new recruits start and applying too early could mean that the certificates expire. The advice from the UKVI is to apply for additional certificates at the start of the recruitment campaign in order to best align the processes.
If the worker is based overseas when you make an application you will need a Defined Certificate of Sponsorship. If you are applying for someone who is already in the UK and currently working for someone else, you will need an Undefined Certificate of Sponsorship.
Once in possession of a defined Certificate of Sponsorship the overseas worker can apply for a skilled worker visa.
If the employee that the Certificate relates to stops working for you, UKVI should be informed and the Certificate of Sponsorship will be cancelled. The worker will no longer be assigned to you.
UKVI will continue to monitor your sponsorship licence and use of certificates of Sponsorship for the duration of the licence period. They reserve the right to inspect businesses to ensure that you are aware of your responsibilities and are carrying out your duties as a sponsor. They may visit or ring premises, without notice and have a set series of questions to follow.
They will be checking:
- whether you are carrying out right to work checks
- keeping identification and immigration documents
- can demonstrate there is nothing preventing the worker being employed in the UK.
During this contact they may request additional documentation, this will include wage slips, duty timesheets, and they may also ask to interview workers directly.
UKVI will be looking for evidence and assurance that the sponsorship licence and related certificates are being used in the right way and in line with the original application.
Things to note:
- Only allow workers to undertake roles permitted by the conditions of their stay.
- Only assign work COS licences to workers if you believe they will meet the immigration requirements.
- The COS is linked to the individual worker and the worker is directly linked to the business.
- UKVI have an ongoing responsibility to ensure licences are being adhered to.
Requirements on your overseas recruit
Skilled Worker Visa
The UK operates a points based system made up of mandatory and tradeable points. Every applicant must score 70 points. 50 of which are made up from the following:
- a job offer in an eligible occupation and from an approved sponsor
- Job skill level at RQF level 3 or above
- English language skills.
The further 20 points can be acquired if the role is on the shortage occupation list.
Care workers/home care assistants have been added to the shortage occupation list for a minimum of 12 months from February 2022. This opens up the option to access these jobs through a skilled worker visa.
This change relates to the application process only and does not impact on the duration of the visa which is up to a maximum of five years.
Overseas recruitment process
- Workers don't need a formal qualification for the visa, it is the skill level of the job that is important.
- All applicants must be paid the required salary of minimum £20,480 or £10.10 per hour (based on 39 hour week).
- There is a criminality check on every applicant.
- Care workers applying for a Health and Care visa are being incentivised.
- Applicants have fast track entry and a reduced visa fee. There is a dedicated team to handle applications and a reduced visa fee of £232 up to three years, £464 for over three years. There is an exemption from the immigration health surcharge for applicants and their families, as well as reduced visa fees for the families.
- The decision takes three to eight weeks depending on the applicant's circumstances.
- A visa lasts up to five years with the opportunity to extend subject to eligibility. There is then the option to apply for leave to remain.
Additional requirements for nurses : Nurses who wish to work in the UK but trained overseas must gain professional registration with the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC). This is a two part process. The first part is computer based and can be completed from any country. The second part is a practical structured clinical observation exam (OSCE) which must be taken at one of five test centres across the UK. The cost of the exam is £794. Further information can be found at Recruitment of overseas nurses and midwives.
What does it cost?
The average cost of recruiting someone from overseas is around £6k per person. This amount varies depending on whether you choose to engage a solicitor and/or a recruitment agency, and what costs you decide to cover to attract your new recruits. One provider who chooses to use the services of both a solicitor and recruitment agency because it makes the whole process very straightforward for them reported that it costs C£12k per nurse. Another provider who uses a recruitment agency and no solicitor reported that it costs C£9k per employee.
It is important to be aware that recruitment agencies should not charge applicants to match them to roles. Any fees should fall to the employer, not the employee. Be cautious of any offer to match you to overseas recruits without charge as it’s possible that the agency will be charging the applicant which is contrary to the best practice guidelines defined by the Code of Practice for England.
- Case study: BMB is a family-run recruitment agency listed in the DHSC code of practice
- Case study: HealthConex: Recruiting overseas for social care providers in England
How long does it take?
Four to six months from starting the process of becoming a sponsor through to your new recruit starting work with you seems to be the average, although we’ve come across examples of it being as quick as 8 weeks. Once you’re set up as a sponsor, it will become quicker for subsequent recruits.
How do I make sure it's successful
Providers tell amazing stories about their experiences of recruiting from overseas and for many it’s been a positive experience.
They’re like our family really”
Jasmine at Rushcliffe Care
Their advice was clear about how to ensure the very best chances that your overseas recruitment will be successful.
1. Adopt ethical recruitment practices
First and foremost, follow the Code of Practice for the International Recruitment of Health and Social Care Professionals. The code is based on World Health Organisation global principles for ethical international recruitment. Following the code will help you to ensure your approach is transparent and fair and that both you and your overseas recruits are protected and safe. The code includes “The List which guides you through which countries you can and cannot actively recruit from and “The Agency List” which lists recruitment agencies who have signed up to the code of practice. There are lots of helpful case studies included that bring the guide to life.
Best practice benchmarks for overseas recruitment:
- There is no active recruitment of health and social care personnel from countries on the red list (this is produced by the government and active recruitment from countries rated red is not permitted)
- All international recruitment by health and social care employers and contracting bodies will follow good recruitment practice and demonstrate a sound ethical approach
- International health and social care personnel will not be charged fees for recruitment services in relation to gaining employment in the UK
- All international health and social care personnel will have the appropriate level of English language to enable them to undertake their role effectively and to meet registration requirements of the appropriate regulatory body
- All appointed international health and social care personnel must be registered with the appropriate UK regulatory body
- All international health and social care personnel required to undertake supervised practice, by a regulatory body, should be fully supported in this process
- All international health and social care personnel will undergo the normal health assessment prior to commencing employment
- All international health and social care personnel will have appropriate pre-employment checks including those for any criminal convictions or cautions as required by UK legislation
- All international health and social care personnel offered a post will have a valid visa before entry to the UK
- Appropriate information about the role applied for will be available to all international health and social care personnel
- All newly appointed international health and social care personnel will be offered appropriate support and induction. As part of this employers and contracting bodies should undertake pre-employment and placement preparation activity to ensure a respectful working environment for all
- Health and social care employers should respond appropriately to applications from international health and social care personnel who are making an individual application
- Health and social care employers and contracting bodies should record international recruitment activities. This will support the UK to monitor and measure the impact of international recruitment flows on the health and social care sector in both the country of origin and the UK.
Pre employment checks
Providers are expected to apply the same process for staff recruited from abroad as they would for other staff. Employers must do all they can to ensure that people they appoint from overseas are suitable to work with adults who use care services and/or children.
2. Duty of care
The key to success is the care and effort you put in to help people settle in the UK and in their new role. Put yourself in their shoes and think about what would help you if you went to work in a new country. What you do will depend on your circumstances, location and the extent to which your new recruits have friends and family already here. Here are some of examples of what social care providers are doing:
- Information pack prior to arrival in the UK providing information about what to bring, clothing needed, adaptors etc
- A virtual meeting between existing and new staff members to build connections
- A WhatsApp group that allows relationships to build between new recruits and the local team in advance of arrival and once over here
- Meeting and greeting at the airport
- A welcome pack with for example groceries, bedding etc
- A local guide to help people to navigate the local area and know what to expect eg. how to register with a GP, what things cost, where the local shops are etc
- Help to apply for a national insurance number and open a bank account
- A local tour to familiarise with the area – local shops, green spaces, places of worship, transport links etc
- Secure short term accommodation
- Support to find longer term accommodation
- A buddying scheme between local staff and new overseas recruits
- Information about local community networks.
If you’re not using an agency to recruit, keeping in regular contact with the people you are recruiting via Zoom or WhatsApp can really help to keep communication open. It helps to keep worries to a minimum for all involved, to keep everyone informed where things are up to and who needs to do what, and to start to build those crucial relationships.
Accommodation can be a challenge. Most employers secure accommodation for their overseas recruits for at least the first four weeks. We heard different examples of how people have done this including: repurposing space in care establishments to create a self-contained flat; arranging for people to stay with existing members of staff, and; paying for Airbnb accommodation. Some providers told us that helping people secure longer term affordable accommodation is becoming increasingly difficult. The situation will differ depending on where you are located but it’s advisable to plan in advance. Read some of our case studies to hear about what others have done.
Pastoral support and retention.
- Case study: Banbury Heights Nursing Home: Integration with the local Indian community
- Case study: BMB, a family-run recruitment agency listed in the DHSC code of practice
Having the right UK capacity in place to take responsibility for all the activity that is required to be legally compliant and manage a successful recruitment approach is essential. You can do this in a number of ways, for example, Karen at The Fed in Greater Manchester employs the services of a solicitor and recruitment agency because she finds it makes the front end of the process more straightforward. She’s embedded duty of care for overseas recruits into the responsibilities of her HR team to ensure people are well supported when they get here. Caroline, at Clifton Care a smaller family run business on the other hand, does everything herself and whilst she’s had to navigate a steep learning curve, is finding that things are starting to get easier. Rushcliffe Care falls somewhere in between looking after legal compliance internally and employing a recruitment agency to help source candidates..
4. Preparing your UK team
If you are new to overseas recruitment you may find that your UK team have mixed feelings about it. Helping your staff to understand the reasons for trying overseas recruitment and giving them the chance to hear about the experiences of other organisations who have used overseas recruitment will help allay any worries. We have heard some fantastic examples of how providers have worked with their teams to help them get ready to welcome overseas recruits and how members of staff have really gone out of their way to help people to settle. Examples include:
- Arranging an introductory zoom call between team members and the new recruits to help them get to know each other
- Sharing photos and bios provided by new recruits with the staff team in advance of arrival
- Involving staff in developing welcome packs and guides for new recruits
- Seeking out people who will act as a buddy to new recruits and where possible, choosing someone with a common interest
- Encouraging staff to take the new recruit(s) out and about to get to know the local community
Advice from social care providers
- This is very do-able for a small organisation
- Be open-minded
- Take the time to do your research, read and understand the guidance. The responsibilities that come with holding a sponsor licence are on you as an individual so take them seriously.
- Plan ahead and allow time
- If you decide to use a recruitment agency, make sure they are ethical in their practices only use them if they are on the Government Agency list
- Make sure you’ve got everything lined up for the arrival of the recruits so they can hit the ground running, for example, DBS and other pre-employment checks
- Invest time in looking after your recruits when they arrive and help them settle in
- The process is frustrating at first but gets easier as you do it more. If you decide not to use a solicitor, make sure you save all your documents that you are required to submit to the Home Office. Save everything in one place where you can easily access it in the event that you need to re-submit it at a different stage of the process
- If you use an umbrella company for your DBS checks and they advise that you cannot secure the DBS until arrival in the UK, challenge them. If they won’t change their position, go to a different company.