Fixing The Social Care Staff Crisis: Hiring From Overseas Has A Part To Play

David Ashton-Jones, chief executive at care group Homes Together (, on why it’s vital to make the most of an international talent pool.

As a sector, we’ve always had challenges around hiring and the additional challenge of how then to keep good people. Pressures in the shape of Brexit, Covid-19 and the cost-of-living crisis have all had an effect on the sector and have contributed to the 152,000 vacancies – a 9.9% vacancy rate – and a turnover of 28.3%.

Behind the stats are the human stories. Every day, millions of people rely on this care to support them and their loved ones, and talented people face barriers to joining or staying in our sector – a sector that’s essential to the national purse, contributing £50.3 billion to the UK economy.

As leaders, its clear that the tried and tested ways of working aren’t fit for purpose anymore. We need to start thinking beyond what we’ve done in the past so we can welcome more people into the sector and support them to stay. One option, we’re seeing more people turn to, is to recruit more overseas workers, and thanks to a government fund, this is now easier to do.

Removing borders as a barrier to recruiting

In February 2022, the Government added care workers to the Shortage Occupation List. That means nurses and carers from EU and non-EU countries can come to the UK, if they meet certain criteria including:
• they have a job offer from a licenced sponsor
• they’ll earn £20,480 or more
• they’re 18 or over and have some experience of working in a care environment
• they can speak English well enough to do their job.

As an employer, you’ll need to apply for a sponsor licence from the Home Office, which can take around eight weeks (though you can pay to fast-track it). The employer will have to pay a number of fees to sponsor a skilled worker visa, including the sponsor licence application fee.

It is also a good idea to consult a lawyer experienced in immigration matters when considering a skilled worker sponsorship license. This can help ensure that you have a smooth and successful process, minimise the risk of unnecessary complications, and help keep you up to date with any changes or updates to regulations. For most of us in this sector, this is new to us so bringing in expert, external advice is a must.

Being able to hire from abroad is one thing, but the admin and logistics can be complex and time consuming. So, the Government has also set up a £15 million fund to support adult social care providers with things like finding overseas candidates, applying for visas, and helping people settle.

The uptake has been significant. From March 2022 to March 2023, around 70,000 people arrived in the UK and took up direct care provider roles, up from 20,000 the year before. The number of registered nurses with a non-EU nationality has risen from 20% to 26% in the same period. And at Homes Together, we are already benefiting from the scheme.

Dipping our toes in the international talent pool

Our 13 properties are home to more than 80 adults who rely on us for daily care. We’ve struggled to fill gaps in our team locally, which has put pressure on our workforce – and made it harder for us to grow and support more adults.

In 2023, we got a sponsor licence to recruit from overseas. Since then, we’ve been able to welcome care workers from the Philippines on a three-year visa – so we can fill staff gaps, support our teams and keep on giving people excellent care. We’ve been able to make the new recruits feel at home from day one, with training, homes to live in, and colleagues ready to help them integrate into the local communities.

Recruiting overseas is one piece of the puzzle

Let’s be clear, while this has been a huge positive, it isn’t the miracle cure for all our sector’s recruitment woes. We also need to double our efforts to drum up enthusiasm in the UK for social care work – and create conditions that help people stay in their chosen career.

For example, attracting more people under 25 would help to really improve things. At the moment, just 8% of workers in our sector are under 25 – compared to 12% of the overall UK workforce. Which means we’re missing out on new ideas, greater diversity and growing the UK talent pool for the long-term.

Work’s underway to address this, and other issues. For example, Skills for Care are working with the Government and social care employers to develop apprenticeships and other projects to attract younger people into carer roles.

It’s only by combining these home-grown initiatives with hiring talent from abroad that our sector will be able to bring down that vacancy rate and give people the careers and the care they so deserve.

News, Recruitment Advice