National support programme for overseas social workers should be ‘seriously considered’, says BASW

Growing number of international recruits must be invested in, in workplace and within communities, says association, in wake of launch of its own professional development package for overseas staff

Social worker in supervision w ith manager
Photo: fizkes/Adobe Stock

A national support programme for the growing number of overseas social workers in the UK should be “seriously considered”, the British Association of Social Workers has said.

BASW made the call after launching its own professional development scheme for new international recruits to UK social work.

Employers, particularly in England, have turned to international recruits in recent years to tackle persistently high social work vacancy rates in children’s services and adult social care.

Social Work England recorded a 175% increase in the number of overseas applicants to register between 1 December 2019 to 30 November 2020 and the same period in 2021-22.

From 2021-22, the number of Nigerian social workers on the register grew by 31%, the number of South African practitioners by 29%, the number of Indian staff by 22% and the number of Zimbabwean professionals by 21%. Over the same period, the register as a whole grew by 1.5%.

Growth in number of international social workers

Reports by Social Work England in 2022 and 2023 showed that the numbers of practitioners on the register grew from 99,191 on 30 November 2021 to 100,654 on 30 November 2022, a rise of 1.5%. The top seven groups, by nationality, were:

  • British social workers, whose numbers grew from 90,580 to 91,380 (0.9%).
  • Zimbabwean social workers, representation of whom grew from 1,544 to 1,864 (20.7%).
  • Irish social workers, the number of whom fell slightly from 1,057 to 1,048 (0.9%).
  • Indian social workers, whose representation grew from 441 to 537 (21.7%).
  • South African social workers, whose numbers grew from 386 to 497 (28.8%).
  • American social workers, where numbers fell slightly from 417 down to 411 (1.4%).
  • Nigerian social workers, whose number grew from 312 to 409 (31.1%).

Lack of support for overseas staff

However, overseas social workers have reported receiving inadequate support to manage the costs of relocation, insufficient training to adjust to UK practice and a lack of career progression.

These experiences prompted BASW’s Diaspora special interest group to produce a set of standards for employers on improving the recruitment and induction of overseas staff, which were launched last year. These stated that international social workers should be given three years to adapt to practising in the UK, including an induction programme and ongoing continuing professional development.

The association has now followed this up with a support programme for overseas staff. This includes a self-directed learning package to help international recruits prepare to practise in the UK and a peer support development programme for employers to purchase for new social workers from overseas. The latter comprises 1:1 online coaching sessions and group-based learning, delivered by BASW members who are independent practitioners.

BASW’s head of professional development and education, Jane Shears, said the programme had been developed based on feedback from overseas social workers who had moved to practise in the UK.

“What we’ve heard is that even if someone is already an experienced social worker in Hong Kong, say, they feel quite deskilled, they feel like they are coming in as a less qualified social worker,” she said. “So we put together a package, the peer support development programme, which is about supporting social workers when they enter the workplace.”

‘Massive learning curve’

Diaspora group co-chair Duc Tran added: “It’s a massive learning curve for people coming from overseas. You need to learn the jargon, the legalese. It does need some support.”

Learning areas included different approaches to disciplining children in the UK, compared with other countries, he said, while Shears pointed to the need for international recruits used to a community development model of social work to adjust to the casework-based approach in this country.

However, Tran added: “What we’ve found is that support is quite inconsistent, it depends on the local authority. If they have a practice development team, they can absorb some of that support. However, they may be very busy already completing portfolios for students and apprentices and supporting [practitioners on the assessed and supported year in employment (ASYE). So having [the BASW programme] gives local authorities another option to rely on to support their overseas staff.”

Call for consistency of support

But while highlighting the value of the BASW package, Tran said there was a need for a consistent programme of support for international recruits, backed by government funding.

“We’ve got a programme for ASYEs,” he added. “We’ve got a programme for social work apprentices. I don’t think it takes a lot of money to help support local authorities to help their international recruits. A lot of these social workers have skills and experience and can help improve support to the particular communities local authorities are serving, but not to lose sight of the fact that they need support.”

Shears added: “We have to acknowledge that the transition into new roles from another country does need some programme of support and if that is consistent across the different employers, I think that would be a really helpful starting point, so the expectations are clear.”

National programme ‘should be seriously considered’

In a statement, BASW did not formally adopt the idea of a national programme but said there was a strong case for it.

“We must invest in and support social workers and social care colleagues from overseas within the working environment but also within the community context, including access to safe and affordable housing, advice and support,” said a spokesperson.

“A national overseas social workforce programme aligned to other programmes including ASYE (for social workers) is a proposal that needs to be seriously considered alongside investment of appropriate resources for local authorities.”


27 Responses to National support programme for overseas social workers should be ‘seriously considered’, says BASW

  1. Vernon April 11, 2024 at 10:21 pm #

    The ever present examples of Windrush 2.0. The exploitation of cheap labour from overseas is an age-old merry-go-round, whilst marginalising ‘immigrants’ and subjecting them to the hostile environment. The irony is as mind-blowing as it is depraved. It’s very sad to see BASW are fully onboard.

    • Ben April 12, 2024 at 10:11 pm #

      It not ‘cheap labour’ – they get paid the same as UK trained social workers, which is a lot higher than in their home counties. They are attracted by the better wages. But the countries they draw from – they are not adequately trained about the difference in legislation or culture. Any one can see it is a fail. They should be drawing social workers from Australia, USA, Canada, Sweden etc

      • Vernon April 14, 2024 at 2:02 pm #

        That seems like a gross generalisation, Ben. Does race play a role in your conclusions?

      • MM April 15, 2024 at 7:37 pm #

        Most don’t get paid as much as a UK social worker with the sane level of experience. Some are coming with 5 years of experience and are still starting from the bottom.
        And just to give you advise. It has nothing to do with the geographical location they are coming from.
        Australian social workers have struggled in the UK. Legal context is different in each country. Model of practices are different. In fact some African countries like Zimbabwe are way ahead of UK in terms of the models. They implemented SOS and family network approaches way before UK.

  2. Anne-Marie April 12, 2024 at 9:51 am #

    Perhaps what BASW should be concentrating on is improving Social Works status and encouraging employers to provide better pay and conditions within the profession so that current social workers are encouraged to remain in the profession and more perspective home grown social workers are encouraged into social work.

    It’s quite sad that whilst employers are grappling to bring in overseas, often unsuitable social workers, those who actually come from Britain are overlooked, neglected or worse.

    Personally I must have been quite unlucky as I have worked with lots of overseas social workers and have mostly been underwhelmed by their standards of practice. There have however been times when overseas workers practice has been gold standard, particularly where the workers I have worked with came from Ireland and Australia.

    • Vernon April 13, 2024 at 9:37 am #

      Does race play a role in your conclusions Anne-Marie?

  3. Monika Shikongo April 12, 2024 at 11:07 am #

    I am overseas social worker, working in Wales, in one of local authority. I started last year 1 March 2023. I need to talk to someone Regarding my new roles. Please. I experience a lot of difficulties in my role l.

    • Momo Mosetlhe April 13, 2024 at 2:08 pm #

      Hi Monica…send me your details we can have a chat.Im an international SW,you can send me an email on

  4. John Cluster April 12, 2024 at 12:48 pm #

    I will never understand how social workers in the UK have undertaken the degree being taught UK legislation, UK social work theories, had to show competence with PCFs and yet, someone from another country becomes instantly qualified? Mind blowing.

    • Vernon April 13, 2024 at 9:36 am #

      Your words “never” and “instantly” reveal your motives for exaggeration John.

      • Black Diamond April 15, 2024 at 7:31 pm #

        Vernon you are extremely funny

  5. Joy April 12, 2024 at 2:06 pm #

    Due to the crisis of overspending councils have withdrwn vacancies. Local authorities are using unqualified support workers . Newcastle pay these workers more that an ASYE !

  6. Lorraine April 12, 2024 at 5:10 pm #

    I raised my concerns and offered to support overseas social workers being an experienced Black social worker, to ensure that the social workers had the holistic support they would need. This offer was not accepted. I agree as well that UK based social worker’s are being overlooked and underpaid, resulting in disaffection with many opting for agency placements or leaving the trade altogether.

  7. Gary April 12, 2024 at 6:40 pm #

    Yes, I totally agree. I am originally from Northern Ireland and moved to Australia in my 30s and did my social work degree there and because I have to do 60days requirements of learning and being supervised by a social worker to be accepted under social work england registration requirements.. As in Australia you do not need to be registered as a social worker, but have the qualification. These requirements where put on me because of my job before coming back to the UK in January 2023. I have tried to obtained these requirements without success. This means until this is resolved or sorted out I can practice as a social worker. I hope this scheme etc is recognised to achieve social work activity.

  8. Ryan Webb April 12, 2024 at 9:22 pm #

    The social work amd nursing professions seem to be exploiting the invaluable human resources of comparatively impoverished nations in order to fill their ranks. There’s a rather uncomfortable shade of colonialism about this phenomenon.

    • Vernon April 14, 2024 at 2:05 pm #

      You’ve nailed it here Ryan. 📌 🔨

  9. Agi April 13, 2024 at 12:34 am #

    As an international social worker, I consistently highlight the stark contrast between my UK practice experience and my deeply ingrained educational and cultural background. While I embrace the professional values and norms integral to best practice, the ASYE program, tailored for national NQSWs, offers limited benefit to someone like me. The language barrier and lack of local knowledge constantly challenge my ability to execute tasks effectively. Picture being a fully trained professional yet socially akin to a 6-8-year-old child. I’m navigating the basics of social economy, policy, welfare, and healthcare systems on the fly, alongside everyday essentials like understanding road signs and phone signals. This transition is an immense cognitive, mental, existential, and social upheaval, one that thrives within an inclusive community. And what community could be more embracing than that of social workers?

  10. Anna Maria April 13, 2024 at 11:58 am #

    Good know. Despite of many years of experience in health care in the UK. And my social work qualifications I gained over here I am not even put on shortlist for NQSW or Social Work Assistant. In one situation I was told I do not have right qualifications to be a social worker. This happens when a recruitment department finish reading your CV on your surname. During the interviews I had I was punished for not having experience in statutory settings. I am not suprised that there is shortage of social workers. Most people with experience like mine decided to change their qualifications and look for career opportunities in different field. What I am planning to do as well.

  11. dk April 15, 2024 at 9:23 am #

    I managed two new internationally recruited social workers, from South Africa and Zimbabwe respectively, a few years ago, and as a relatively inexperienced manager myself. They had been recruited as part of a sizeable intake, around 40 people across the LA. Our training department had put huge effort into induction but it didn’t really touch the sides and the workers had vastly different experiences of support and further induction depending on which parts of the service they went to and who managed them. The workers I managed were intelligent, diligent, caring and hardworking, and were hugely driven to practice as they perceived they were expected to. The reality was, though, that this was understandably going to take much more time than a standard LA probation period allows and I was (to be frank) horrified when senior management were clear they should be considered to be at the same standard of practice as any other experienced social worker after 6 months in post. I was grossly unprepared and unsupported for the dilemmas involved in being the person who decided if they were at that standard and therefore effectively if the LA would continue to sponsor them, and if they would be able to continue living in the country. And if I felt that way … For various practical and ethical reasons, I don’t think international recruitment is the best approach to take, but national standards and expectations are needed for these social workers and all who are expected to support (and challenge) them if LAs are going to continue pursuing international recruitment.

  12. Kim April 15, 2024 at 11:30 am #

    It is concerning really that experienced Social Workers, and indeed those who are not experienced, are leaving the profession in droves because of poor work conditions, triple contracted hours with no ability to take time off in lieu, unmanageable caseloads, and LA’s that are inadequate or in special measures, to then see staff being sought from the international community to fill these vacancies. Many people have given many years to this profession and it is often commented on here how much bullying goes on. The UK is often diverse and multi-cultural, but many of our laws and values here differ from other cultures especially around discipline issues. I feel that rather than investing in bringing in Social Workers from other Countries the UK needs to focus on supporting and nurturing its own qualified cohort first.

  13. David April 15, 2024 at 1:33 pm #

    The best support to Social Workers is respect for the 37 working week and not pressing them to work excessive hours, ie look at caseloads

  14. MM April 15, 2024 at 7:45 pm #

    Here we go again. We see the UK responding by thinking that more learning will do the magic.
    I am hearing of LA having to give these overseas workers some induction learning to do whilst abroad. That model does not work when one has to think of securing accommodation,car,etc. Most LA are exploiting these SW. How do they expect someone coming from Nigeria to secure accommodation themselves,find a car and fend for themselves for a month before getting paid.
    An intense induction is not the solution. For anyone to learn they have to be in the right framework of mind.
    Prior experience is ignored and most all start at the salary of a NQSW even when they have 5 years prior experience.
    The main issue is caseload rather than lack of knowledge. No matter how much learning you want them to do as long as caseloads are not managed then these overseas social workers will struggle.Most of these overseas social workers are holding over 20 cases within their first month’s. I would say focus on caseloads ,practical support and pastoral support and see whether the overseas social workers won’t flourish.

    • Kim April 15, 2024 at 8:47 pm #

      Do not those of us from the UK also deserve the same conditions? I think therein lies the problem for all Social Workers. 🙁

  15. Mary April 15, 2024 at 9:27 pm #

    Someone guide me on how I can work in uk as a social worker . I am a social worker in kenya

  16. David April 15, 2024 at 11:59 pm #

    Dear MM and Kim
    Could not agree more
    Best wishes

  17. Pat April 16, 2024 at 6:33 pm #

    As an international recruit been here a little longer I concur, the struggle in Social work cuts across but it is worse for international candidates who are expected to hit the ground running and to be honest I have a lot of close friends who sank into depression in the first year, they were not coping and felt stuck having uprooted to start afresh.

  18. David April 16, 2024 at 9:42 pm #

    It’s an absolute tragedy and due to the failure again of Social Work managers who prioritise targets and timescales at the expense of important support to Social Workers. When will they learn? Indeed will they as an Ofsted inspection constantly looms? This will be to the detriment of support to children and families