How to get a social work job in England if you trained abroad

Getting the right job can be tough enough for some UK-trained social workers, so what advice can our expert give someone who hopes to move here from Canada and find work?

Q: I trained in Canada, but I’m planning to move to Oxford this month to join my partner. I have applied for countless jobs with only negative responses. How can I break into the UK job market?

Amelia, social worker

A: Firstly, if you qualified as a social worker outside of the UK and wish to work in England, you must be registered with the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC), which has a specific international registration procedure. Registering, or at least starting the registration process, demonstrates your commitment to working in the UK. If you are looking to work elsewhere in the UK, remember that each devolved country has a different regulator; the Care Council for Wales, Scottish Social Services Council and Northern Ireland Social Care Council.

You may already be eligible to work in the UK, for example if you are from the European Economic Area (which includes the European Union) or Switzerland, or you possess a spouse visa. If you do not currently have the right to work in the UK, you can look to secure a Tier 2 visa. In order to apply for a Tier 2 visa, you must be doing skilled work that is on the UK Border Agency’s shortage occupation list. This currently includes children and families social workers, but not adult social workers.

In order to secure the Tier 2 visa, you will need to obtain a job offer from an organisation that is licensed to sponsor foreign nationals, and a valid certificate of sponsorship. On applying for the visa, you will also need to pass a points-based assessment. There are a number of local authorities and other organisations in the UK who are able to offer this option to skilled social workers.

It’s best to avoid applying for temporary or “agency” roles. The high demands of agency social work mean that virtually all employers ask for previous UK experience. Look for permanent roles instead. As well as searching online, try contacting employers directly to find out what they have available and whether they offer sponsorship. You can also speak to agencies who specifically recruit for permanent social work jobs; they will be able to tell you about the employers they work with who may be able to sponsor you.

Some employers run specific initiatives and recruitment drives aimed at taking on international social workers. Networking is a key way to stay up-to-date with these opportunities. Attend events such as Community Care Live, where you will be able to meet a range of employers and find out what schemes they offer.

Even if you are a very experienced social worker, a lack of UK-based experience can be an obstacle. Getting experience in the sector here, e.g. as a social work assistant, could help, as could volunteering while you seek work. This will allow you to become accustomed to UK working methods.

Finally, look into doing some UK-based social work training to supplement your experience. Many training providers will be able to help you learn more about the processes we use and the way social work is practised in the UK. This will allow you to apply your existing knowledge and experience in the context of UK social work, set you apart from the crowd and give you a great advantage as you look for work.

Jonathan Coxon is managing director of Liquid Personnel, a specialist social work recruitment consultancy. Liquid Personnel’s permanent division works with several employers who can offer sponsorship to international social workers.

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