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Find out how international students and graduates can work in social care in Wales.

First published:
7 August 2023
Last updated:

Overview 

Welsh Government supports the employment of students from overseas. There are various benefits for a social care provider in recruiting international students. They can bring language skills, cultural diversity, resilience and more into a team. However, recruitment of students and graduates does not provide a quick solution for staffing issues. It is a serious commitment that places significant responsibilities on the employer. This resource focusses on international students and graduates who:

  • are already in the UK on a student visa
  • who wish to work as social care workers, social workers, or nurses in social care alongside studying for their degree

Immigration is not a devolved matter and sits with the UK government. Welsh Government continues to work with the Home Office on the effects of immigration policy in Wales.

Basic principles 

All international recruits must meet the eligibility criteria of their chosen visa. They need to have the right skills, and qualifications for the role. The employer must ensure recruits are suitable to work in social care. They must always follow regulations and safe recruitment practices.

To be ready for recruiting international students, employers must have:

  • funded jobs that are within the working time limits 
  • the right capacity in place to support the international student
  • awareness of the ongoing duty of care for the people they recruit

The needs and experience of people receiving care remain the upmost priority. Their safety and wellbeing are paramount. 

Requirements for recruiting workers on a student visa 

A student allowed in the UK on a student visa - GOV.UK will have clear approval to work in their passport or Biometric Residence Permit. This states their permission to work and the number of hours of work allowed during term time such as 10 or 20 hours a week. During vacation time students are allowed to work full time. For a clear position on the student’s permission to work including how many hours they can work, employers should check their right to work online - GOV-UK. People on a visitor or short-term student visa are not permitted to work. 

Students are not permitted to be in a permanent full-time vacancy. That is, unless they are applying to switch into the skilled worker visa route following the completion of degree-level study in the UK. They also aren’t permitted to be self-employed.

Employers do not need a sponsorship licence or a certificate of sponsorship to employ someone whilst on the student visa.

How long a student can stay in the UK depends on the length of their course and what they study, and the length of study they have already completed. If they are 18 or over and their course is at degree level, they can usually stay in the UK for up to 3 years, or up to 5 years for a PHD. If it’s below degree level, they can usually stay in the UK for up to 2 years.

Tax and national insurance 

Workers on a student visa must apply for a National Insurance Number. National Insurance will be automatically deducted from their wages. If a student earns over £12,570, their income may be taxable. Visit the HM Revenue and Customs website for more information: Student jobs: paying tax - GOV.UK 

‘Right to work’ checks 

All employers must check that the person they intend to recruit has a ‘right to work’ in the UK. The UK Government website has guidance on: viewing a job applicant’s right to work - GOV.UK. When carrying out a right to work check the employer needs to ensure they understand any visa restrictions the student may have.

Employers need to ensure the work doesn't extend beyond the visa’s duration and also that the correct visa is in place before the job starts.  

Compliance 

It’s vital for employers of international recruits to keep the documents needed, in addition to the regular records new social care workers need. For example, employers must note term and holiday times for students with term-time visa limits on work for when they work and study here. They should also diarise the expiry date of the student’s visa to ensure they do not continue to employ them if they no longer have permission to be in the UK.

Employers will also need to ensure the hours the student works each week including other paid or voluntary work are below the visa’s limit. UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) take work conditions on student visas very seriously. They can take enforcement action against employers and students who are in breach of the rules. For example, students working too much or doing prohibited work face incarceration or deportation.

Employers of international students found working illegally could face financial and criminal penalties.

Requirements for recruiting workers on a graduate visa 

With a graduate visa, international students can work, or look for work in the UK, following completion of their studies. A graduate visa lasts for 2 years after successfully completing a course in the UK. With a PHD or other doctoral qualification, it will last for 3 years. The work can be in any sector and at any level without any minimum salary requirements. The Graduate Visa Route is an unsponsored route, meaning that applicants do not need a job offer or a Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS) to be eligible. The current costs for the visa ( and the healthcare surcharge are here: Graduate visa: How much it costs - GOV.UK (www.gov.uk). Both are payable on application. This would be paid by the student switching into the graduate route. The visa will start from the day the application is approved.

Applicants for a graduate visa must meet all the following criteria:

  • be currently in the UK
  • have a current student visa 
  • have studied a UK bachelor’s degree, postgraduate degree or eligible course for a minimum period on a student visa or Tier 4 (General) student visa 
  • have successfully completed their course as confirmed by their education provider to the Home Office

Check a course’s eligibility

A graduate visa cannot be extended. If a worker on a graduate visa wants to stay longer in the UK, they should switch to a different visa such as a skilled worker visa. Graduates who already work in health or social care and want to stay on should check their eligibility for the Health and Care Worker visa (HCWV). The HCWV is a type of skilled worker visa and is designed to recruit international workers into the social care sector. This link has further information: Health and Care Worker visa: Overview - GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)The immigration health surcharge is not levied for this visa. The HCWV requires sponsorship by the employer and incurs costs for them. These include the immigration skills charge and the certificate of sponsorship. 

Pre-employment checks

Providers must apply the same process and principles of safe recruitment for staff from abroad as they would for staff recruited in the UK. 

The Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) cannot access criminal records held overseas. Yet employers should still run DBS checks in relation to proposed workers in case:

  • a person is barred
  • has a criminal record in the UK
  • is from a place where the DBS can share data

If using an umbrella company to do DBS checks that says a DBS is only possible on the worker’s arrival in the UK, you should challenge the company. If the company won’t change its position, consider using a different company.

If not present, social care employers must contact the relevant embassy for criminal records to meet regulations. More detail is in the DBS section of the ‘gov.uk’ website. It’s important employers check international workers have the right permits to work in a UK care setting. This is independent of the visa application requirements. Employers may be breaking the law if they do not ensure that international workers have all the right documents. Examples of acceptable ID are provided.

Successful recruitment of international students and graduates 

The key to success is the employer’s support and effort to help students settle in their new role. It helps to be proactive and think how to support somebody starting work in a new job. What the employer might want to provide depends on several factors which may include:

  • location
  • transport
  • accommodation
  • if the student has friends or family already here

Equally important is to prepare the current team, the people receiving care, and their families. 

Capacity 

The organisation needs the capacity to manage recruiting, training and integrating international workers. This might be a steep learning curve. Peer support or asking for advice from somebody who has recruited workers on a student visa can be helpful. 

Costs and timing 

This guide is for providers considering employing international students and graduates already in the UK. Therefore the costs and timings are similar to recruitment in the UK.

Supporting the international recruit 

Having regular contact with the recruits during the on-boarding process is important. Close contact helps to keep everyone informed about progress and who needs to do what. Also, it allows the opportunity for any issues to be raised and managed early. Regular line management contact in the early days as well as planned supervision over the period of employment are crucial. Examples of other support include:

  • a virtual meeting or other means to link up current and new staff
  • providing a welcome pack with information about the organisation, training and registration 
  • helping to apply for a national insurance number, GP/dentist enrolment, opening a bank account
  • providing information and/or a local guide to familiarise the recruit with transport links 
  • arranging a buddy scheme between current staff and international recruits (while it helps if the buddy is someone with a common interest)
  • providing information about ethnic support networks, religious sites, and facilities

Preparing staff and the organisation 

Employers may find current staff feel mixed about recruiting international students or graduates. Many providers prepare their teams to get them ready to welcome international recruits. Some examples to support international recruits are already mentioned in the chapter above. Employers should/can for example: 

  • encourage staff to be open minded and highlight the benefits of having a more diverse workforce
  • take the time to do the research, read and understand the guidance 
  • plan well ahead and allow time
  • ensure recruits are ready with everything organised such as DBS, other hiring checks, and accommodation
  • involving staff in developing welcome packs and guides for new recruits
  • invest time in looking after the recruits when they start work and helping them settle in

Preparing people who receive services from you and their families 

In some instances, care receivers and/or their families have not accepted care staff’s cultural or ethnic diversity. It is important as an employer to be proactive and supportive. Examples are:

  • telling the workers how to react to discrimination with rules and measures for workplace equality
  • informing care receivers and their families of relevant policies such as zero tolerance to racism
  • providing a suitable introduction of new workers to care receivers 
  • briefing workers thoroughly so for example they can prepare a chat about a favourite subject with a care receiver

Accommodation and transport         

Most students will already have accommodation. It might be difficult for them to reach their place of work, as they may not have a car (or a driving licence) and rely on public transport, lifts, or their bike. This can be difficult or unsafe, especially if they do night shifts. The situation varies depending on location. However it’s advisable for an employer to know the individual student worker’s situation to be able to consider it as when creating a duty roster. 

Ethical recruitment practices 

The Code of Practice for International Recruitment affects hiring international health and social care workers in the UK. The principles of the code applies to international students and graduates even if they are already in the UK. Being familiar with it is important for an employer. The World Health Organisation’s standards for ethical international recruitment underpin the code. 

Best practice benchmarks for international recruitment include:

  • all recruits having the appropriate level of English  
  • applicants having the right pre-employment checks, including for convictions or cautions as per UK law
  • applicants offered a post having a valid visa
  • all recruits having access to appropriate support and induction 

Modern slavery awareness 

Modern slavery is the illegal exploitation of people for personal or commercial gain. Overseas workers, refugees and other displaced people are more vulnerable to human trafficking. Also they are more vulnerable to workplace exploitation and other safeguarding issues. 

There have been recent cases of modern slavery in the Welsh social care sector. It’s important to be aware of the signs. Victims of modern slavery can be any age, gender, nationality, or ethnicity. 

The Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) gives advice about employers’ responsibilities. If worried about abuse or exploitation, report it to the Gangmasters Labour Abuse Authority (GLAA). You can also call the Modern Slavery  and Exploitation Helpline on 08000 121 700.

Regulation and registration 

The Regulation and Inspection of Social Care (Wales) Act 2016 and the rules made under it apply to people giving care and support in Wales. This includes international workers and students. There are specific requirements for someone’s fitness to work for a registered social care provider. See Part 10 of the Regulated Services (Service Providers and Responsible Individuals) (Wales) Regulations 2017 ('the Regulations').

Registration means students entering a professional workforce. The necessity of registration depends on the role whether it is for social care workers, social workers, or nurses in social care. A person must register with Social Care Wales (SCW) if employed to provide care and support in:

  • a care home for children or adults
  • secure accommodation
  • a domiciliary support service
  • a residential family centre service

Students wanting to work as a social worker need to register with SCW before starting work in Wales. This is in addition to their visa requirements. Applications to register must be endorsed. This is to confirm there are no reasons why the person should not be on the register. A person from a list of approved people in the organisation can endorse the application. SCW takes a supportive approach to international applicants and their employers. 

For more information, contact the registration team on enquiries@socialcare.wales.

Students wanting to work as a nurse who trained overseas must register with the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC). This is in addition to their visa requirements. See here for more information: Joining the register - The Nursing and Midwifery Council (nmc.org.uk)

Risk management 

It’s an employer’s duty to assess and manage risks identified during recruitment. They must ensure people in the service are safeguarded and protected. This is regardless of whether the student has a criminal record. Having a criminal record does not necessarily mean the person will present a risk to people. The absence of a criminal record (or inability to obtain one) does not mean a person does not present a risk. 

It’s important to carry out all pre-employment checks. Recording the checks in a pre-employment risk assessment can be helpful. This assessment could consider aspects such as:

  • any declarations the individual may have made including about past offences
  • if they are a ‘fit’ person for the role
  • any discussions the employer had with the applicant about their criminal records checks

An employer also needs to make sure recruitment is safe for the student. Sometimes it’s a risk if someone’s home country authorities know about their stay in the UK. Discuss this with the student, allowing them to voice concerns.

Other useful links 

Examples of types of onboarding documents  

Name (and any alias and former name), address, and date of birth 

For example a passport, driving licence, birth certificate, or marriage certificate are acceptable. If these are absent, identification can use the ID provided by UK or Welsh Government on arrival such as a biometric residence permit. 

Information about qualifications, experience and skills relating to the specific role

For example qualification certificates, training certificates/logs, CVs, and references are acceptable.

Statement by the applicant about the state of their physical and mental health 

  • a Medical Declaration of Health (MDH) statement signed by the applicant is acceptable
  • a recent photograph 
  • a photograph such as a passport-style photo is acceptable

Two references with an explanation that the provider is satisfied about their authenticity 

The references should ideally be from former employers including the most recent employer. Academic references and personal references are also acceptable in some situations. Two is the minimum number and more could be sought, depending on circumstance. If employer references are impossible to get, personal references are acceptable.

Full employment history, with an explanation of any gaps 

A CV and details on an application form are acceptable.

Enhanced Disclosure Barring Service (DBS) check 

a DBS certificate and criminal records check. Alternatively a ‘certificate of good character’ from the home nation if appropriate is acceptable.

Eligibility to work in the UK (required by immigration law)

An official statement/visa/permit, work permit/ID supplied by the UK/Welsh Government to refugees, and right to work checks are acceptable.