Overseas recruitment bite-size guide for social care providers in England

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 guide was produced by the Local Government Association and the Association of Directors of Adult Social Care, with the South East Social Care Alliance.

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.

A note about employing social workers

There are additional requirements that overseas recruits must comply with in order to practice as a social worker in England. These requirements relate to:

  • Registration: applicants must demonstrate they have successfully completed a qualification of a comparable standard to the England social work qualification or evidence equivalent training and experience. There is a scrutiny fee payable of £495 and if the application for registration is successful, a registration fee of £90 per annum. Applications for registration usually take 60 working days to process.
  • English language requirements must be met in one of three ways: an IELTS certificate demonstrating the full academic version was undertaken with a score of at least 7; the applicant qualified as a social worker in the last five years in a country where English is the first and native language, or; the applicant is registered and practising as a social worker in a country where English is the first and native language.
  • Safe, healthy and fit to practice declarations as set out in the detailed guidance.

Detailed guidance has been set out by Social Work England Guidance for applicants who qualified overseas. From an employer perspective, you will require evidence that the applicant is successfully registered to practise as a social worker in England.

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.

Sponsor licence costs
  • Timescales: eight weeks assuming there are no clarifications required which could extend the process. 
  • Cost (met by the organisation): £536 (small business) £1476 (larger organisation)
  • Priority service: Can reduce the timescales to 10 working  days. Available on a first come first served basis, only take limited numbers. £500.
  • There is a fee to assign a Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS) to a worker (met by the organisation) - £199
  • Applications for additional CoS take (13) weeks
  • An overseas worker will need a CoS for the visa application. There is a fast tracked entry for the Health and Care Visa. Decision takes three to eight weeks depending on the individual's circumstances. Cost: £232 up to three years £464 over three years. 
  • agency fees vary - £1000 flat fee quoted by one agency. 
  • OSCE exam cost  
  • support for getting to exam centre 
  • Social Care professional assessment
  • English language assessment/ ESOL
  • the first four weeks accommodation. 
  • flights. 

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.

The DBS cannot access criminal records held overseas. However, it is still recommended that employers undertake DBS checks in case a person is barred, has a criminal record in the UK, or comes from a country where the DBS does have information sharing arrangements If a provider is recruiting people from overseas and wishes to check their overseas criminal record, they need to contact the relevant foreign embassy. There is more detail on the DBS section of the ‘gov.uk’  website. It is important that employers check thoroughly that overseas job applicants have the necessary permits to work in a UK care setting. Employers may be breaking the law if they do not make sure that workers from overseas have all the right documents. There is information about this at the UK Border Agency’s website

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.

3. Capacity

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.