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Fears over cap on overseas social work recruitment

Social work and service users in the UK have benefited significantly from immigration, BASW has told the government in response to its plans to put a cap on the import of workers from outside of the European Union.

In evidence to a Home Affairs Select Committee inquiry into the government’s proposals to place a cap on economic migration, BASW stated that while it understands the case for a reduction in net migration, it believes there is a strong professional case for allowing a range of social workers from non EU countries to work in the UK.

‘The current employment of internationally educated social workers has raised the expectation of employers as to the appropriate education and skills levels needed from our UK educated social workers,’ says BASW’s submission, which drew on a number of real-life examples from BASW members who responded to a request for frontline views on the impact of overseas social workers in the UK.

One children’s services manager said that practitioners from New Zealand and Australia had far superior academic qualifications than domestically trained staff and were more committed to continuing professional development.

The manager continued by arguing that the necessity for overseas recruitment would persist until higher A-level results are expected of social work students – currently standards across the UK vary, with Northern Ireland viewed as requiring far higher academic attainment for accessing the social work degree than other parts of the country. The contributor added that guaranteeing a local authority placement during training was an equally vital imperative for raising standards in UK social work and negating the need to import overseas workers.

BASW’s submission to the Home Affairs Select Committee called on the Westminster government to treat social work as a ‘shortage occupation’. It goes on to highlight the diversity of UK society and to welcome the skills and knowledge bought to the UK by non-EU trained and skilled social workers – described as vitally important to social inclusion and social cohesion.

BASW also stressed that social work is an international profession and that it is critical that ‘social workers from the UK gain opportunities to practice and learn abroad just as it is for social workers from both within and without the EU to come here’.

It adds: ‘Thus while we support moves to ensure that the UK trains and supports enough social workers to run our own services, we expect to also promote on our own and through the newly developing College of Social Work, increasing opportunities for international study and work exchanges. This we believe is the healthy and appropriate professional response to meet the needs of service users and professional staff.’

BASW’s submission describes the poor experiences that some social workers from outside of the UK have had in local authorities. It urges the development of an International Code for Recruitment on International Social Workers, based on the Code for NHS staff, which would include a commitment not to recruit from developing countries and that no international social worker is employed by a recruitment agency on first entering the UK.

The Association also suggests that international social workers have a supported first year in employment, similar to that being developed for newly qualified social workers.

BASW concludes by urging the coalition government to build on work undertaken by the Social Work Reform Board, by creating a career structure that rewards experienced workers, raises the standard of those entering the profession and to ensure that local authorities give support to international social workers.