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Thursday 27 July 2023

How to manage overseas staff

By Katia Widlak

Workers from overseas have been part of the health and care family since the NHS began. They are valued and respected colleagues who face many extra challenges in the workplace and beyond. Katia Widlak offers her tips on recruiting, supporting, and retaining your migrant workforce.

Flock of migrant birds flying in V formation

1. Apply robust ethical recruitment practices  

The UK has implemented its own code of practice (mip.social/migrant-code) on the international recruitment of healthcare staff. The code includes a ‘red’ list of countries from which active recruitment is not allowed, based on the World Health Organisation code. But the code is not legally enforceable, leaving gaps that can be exploited by some agencies. Many employers, particularly in the NHS, are improving practices to help proactively support their international staff throughout the recruitment process (see mip.social/migrant -code-nhs for more information).

2. Keep up with legal changes

Migration legislation is changing fast. Recent regulations have extended the requirement to prove immigration status for the right to work and rent to all migrants, except those from Ireland. So, make sure that staff with sponsorship managerial roles and those conducting right-to-work checks fully understand the requirements of the certificate of sponsorships framework and the right to work legislation. Many migrant workers have been wrongfully dismissed or suspended while checks or visa renewals were being carried, with potentially devastating consequences. Visit mip.social/migrant-checks to find out more.

3. Help new workers feel confident

International workers will be used to different working standards and practices, and different regulatory frameworks. Offering appropriate and continuous support, induction and training to all newly appointed international health and care staff can make a real difference, helping them to avoid difficulties while new in the job.

4. Get social

A third of all UK workers feel isolated at work, so for staff coming from abroad, often separated from family and friends, work can be a very lonely experience. Help to create space, time and activities so migrant workers can socialise and support each other at work and outside.

5. Build trust

Set up robust reporting mechanisms to report workplace issues. This is particularly important for international workers, whose right to live and work in the UK is conditional on their visa. They may find reporting racism, discrimination, abuse or exploitative treatment more difficult because they fear it could affect their ability to stay or settle in the UK.

6. Invest in wellbeing

Many migrant workers will need support with issues outside work such as National Insurance, taxation and housing. Despite the efforts you make to treat all your staff fairly, the UK Government policy of ‘No recourse to public funds’, means that many migrant workers are denied access to welfare or other basic public safety nets. So in this situation, offering financial support is especially important.

7. Work with partners

Local authorities and charities can offer support and advice to your international workers beyond what you can provide. For example, London City Hall‘s Migrant Londoners’ Hub (mip.social/mlh) is a great resource to help migrant communities understand and enforce their rights, and includes an interactive map to help locate support services across the capital.

8. Help workers settle

The UK immigration system is inflexible and unfairly expensive for migrant workers to navigate. Applying for extensions or accessing services can cost thousands of pounds – a huge financial burden for many overseas workers and their families. Offer time off and cover the cost of renewing any paperwork related to the right to work in the UK.  And when possible, offer advice and financial support with settlement rights in the UK.

9. Support family reunification 

Invest long-term in your workforce by supporting them with family reunification. While many healthcare workers are supported to travel and work in the UK, they are often denied a family life because the UK immigration system makes it exceedingly difficult for relatives to live with them. This makes it harder to retain the international staff you have invested in.

10. Combat bias

Offering fair career trajectories for all staff will help you to retain your international workers. Make sure you focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion in career progression pathways to avoid perpetuating systemic inequality.

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