175% rise in number of overseas social workers applying to work in England in past three years

    Practitioners from Zimbabwe, India and South Africa make up bulk of applicants, with rise coming amid mounting workforce pressures across children's and adults' services

    Person pushing register key on keyboard
    Photo: momius/Adobe Stock

    How well do you feel social workers from overseas are supported to work in the UK?

    • Badly (48%, 270 Votes)
    • There is support in place but there is also room for improvement (40%, 225 Votes)
    • Very well (12%, 70 Votes)

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    The number of overseas social workers applying to work in England annually has risen almost threefold in the past three years, Social Work England has reported.

    While 611 practitioners from abroad applied to register in England from 1 December 2019 to 30 November 2020, 1,684 did in the 2021-22 registration year, the regulator said in its State of the nation 2023 report, published last week.

    The 175.3% increase was driven by applications from India, South Africa and Zimbabwe, from which countries numbers rose by 842 from 2019-20 to 2021-22.

    This was reflected in the composition of the registered population by nationality. While Zimbabwean has been the second most common nationality in the registered population since 2019-20, behind British, the number of practitioners from the southern African country rose from 1,544 to 1,864, in the year to 30 November 2022, a 21% rise. The third biggest group was Irish practitioners, whose numbers fell slightly, from 1,057 to 1,048.

    The number of social workers from India rose from 441 to 537 (22%), and the total from South Africa from 386 to 497 (29%), with the latter group now outnumbering practitioners from America, of which there were 411 as of 30 November 2022, down slightly on the previous year (417). The past year also saw a significant increase in the number of Nigerian registrants, whose total rose from 312 to 409, a 31% rise, making them the seventh biggest group by nationality. The vast majority of social workers in England – 91,380 out of 100,654 (91%) – were British, with their number growing by 1%, a similar rise to that in the overall registered population (1.5%) in the year to 30 November 2022.

    The growth in the number of applications to register from overseas comes amid increasing vacancies and pressures in statutory children’s and adults’ services, which sector bodies, led by Social Work England, are looking to tackle, including by exploring the role of international recruitment.

    Registration requirements

    To register as a social worker in England, practitioners from overseas must:

    To come to work in the country, practitioners need a job offer from an employer with a sponsorship licence to hire from abroad.


    11 Responses to 175% rise in number of overseas social workers applying to work in England in past three years

    1. Patsy March 13, 2023 at 5:35 pm #

      Windrush 2.0

    2. Katie March 15, 2023 at 7:32 am #

      This reads like the Windrush all over again.

      • Bear March 20, 2023 at 11:06 am #


    3. Paul March 15, 2023 at 9:23 am #

      I was a qualified Social Worker who obtained my MS in Social Work at New York University and worked as a Social Worker in NYC before taking the opportunity to work as a Social Worker in London in 2010. This month will be 13 years working in my position with a London Borough. It has been the most fulfilling and rewarding decision of my Social Work career and while the experience has many challenges, i would encourage any such move by any enterprising young social worker.

    4. José March 15, 2023 at 10:46 pm #

      Hello Paul! My name is José. I worked as a qualified social worker in London in the past as well. Could I ask you something? Are you allowed to work in the UK through agencies? Or you can only apply for permanent jobs? Thanks

      • Paul Walker March 29, 2023 at 8:44 am #

        Hi Jose, I guess that would depend on the Social Worker’s immigration status.
        Don’t know if that helps.

    5. Andy March 16, 2023 at 7:31 pm #

      So Zimbabwe and South Africa (two countries with pretty damned serious social problems at the most fundamental levels) are providing essential personnel to fill unfilled professional posts in one of the richest countries on the planet. Oh well I guess its much cheaper than training your own staff.

    6. Michelle March 17, 2023 at 1:05 pm #

      “pay a non-refundable scrutiny fee of £495 to Social Work England, which the regulator takes towards the end of the application process, and is in addition to the registration fee”
      This wasn’t in place when I applied to the HCPC as a Social Worker educated abroad. Really disappointing that SWE are doing this money-making scheme – given how extortionate visa fees charged by the Home Office are.

      Most Social Workers are also not exempt from the Immigration Health Surcharge (an extra cost of £624 per year per person which those on work visas + their dependents have to pay for use of the NHS per year) – which is another ridiculous expense, given that we are coming here to work and pay taxes already, which contributes to NHS funding.

      I have worked alongside Social Workers from many different countries and it has been an enriching experience – I remember finding Community Care a good resource to get up to speed with UK legislation when I first arrived too.

      • Bear March 20, 2023 at 11:08 am #

        This fee was in place via HCPC when I applied 7 years ago. So it’s not new to SWE.

    7. Renae March 18, 2023 at 4:26 am #

      As an Australian qualified social worker with 5+years experience before moving to London to work in the field, I found the transition jarring. I was a qualified Mental Health Social Worker in Australia, a role which simply does not exist here, and I found I had to fight to be accepted by my therapeutically trained colleagues in CAMHS (primarily psychologists, family therapists and psychotherapists) who largely view social workers as inferior practitioners. I have found the pigeonholing of social workers in the UK as either child protection/safeguarding and/or caseworkers to be completely deflating. In Australia all social workers will usually specialise in a specific area which requires additional training and years of on the job training i.e. clinical mental health (assessments and therapy), family violence, paediatric medicine, child protection etc. When I have told clinicians in the UK that I’m a clinical social worker, they are usually surprised and respond that they thought that work was “outside the professions remit”. I even had one psychologist colleague comment that “CAMHS shouldn’t be hiring social workers”. I am still unclear as to why the profession is viewed so negatively and with such disdain by so many in this country. In Australia, I was proud to be a social worker. In the UK I’ve felt that it is something to be hidden or trained or of, such as the scores of social workers here who seem to retrain to become family therapists to further their clinical careers.

      • Paul Walker March 29, 2023 at 9:05 am #

        I agree with much of what you share Renae. I graduated from New York University as a Clinical Social Worker and was alarmed to see how the role of a Social Worker here in the UK ‘is viewed so negatively and with disdain.’ However i believe that is largely because the public sees the role of social workers only in Child Protection, and as case workers who simply ‘remove’ children from their parents. On the flip side however, if there is a death or injury to a child while in their parent’s care, its always the Social Worker’s fault and who will end up getting the blame. So they are in a no-win position. The problem here is that the role of a Social Worker is not recognised as it is in the USA or where you qualified, however the Social Workers here are very dedicated and professional and only now are they being given the respect due, but there is a long way to go, As for CAMHS, yes, you got it right again, they view themselves as a class above the Social Workers but i can understand why as they do most, if not all of the therapeutic intervention with children and families. But then it’s not unlike some of what happens in the US where Clinical Social Workers see themselves as a class above their colleagues who are not qualified as Clinical Social Workers who only want to do ‘Therapy.’