Local, European and Global: An exploration of migration patterns of social workers into Ireland. Walsh, Wilson & O’Connor British Journal of Social Work (2009) 1–18 doi:10.1093/bjsw/bcp141. Genesis of the Study.
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Walsh, Wilson & O’Connor
British Journal of Social Work (2009) 1–18
This research highlighted significant differences in both the approach to practice learning and the organisational, legislative and policy contexts across jurisdictions. It was decided to undertake further research to consider possible implications for the mobility of social work graduates across the border.
To move towards alignment and mutual recognition of qualifications across the island of Ireland.
To increase mobility of social workers and social work students between the two jurisdictions
‘Crossing Borders’ Social Work Mobility Study (2001)
A research study which identified commonalties and differences between social work training in the North of Ireland and the Republic of Ireland with particular reference to areas of legislation, social policy and organisation of social services.
and the ‘Crossing Borders’ Resource Pack
Workforce mobility in the UK
Benefits of international recruitment identified by employers, trainers and managers include:
Recruitment and induction practices have improved
For example, a national code for international recruitment in social care now exists to address ethical concerns over the draining of professional resources from less developed regions of the world (SCCIR, 2009).
Yet, the problem is far from resolved, with a figure of an estimated 50 – 60 social workers leaving South Africa every three months (Kasiram, 2009).
Recommendations are for targeted international recruitment campaigns, focused on other European countries, both to ensure ethical recruitment policies and to simplify induction and support practices (Firth, 2007).
A study of the qualitative experiences of migrant social
workers found that support needs vary because of the
heterogeneity of the group.
Marked differences exist in the structures of welfare
provision between ROI and NI, taking the numbers
employed in relevant sectors as a guide.
‘The public sector dominated industries such as public
administration, health and education services accounting
for over one-third of all persons in employment in Northern
Ireland…However, in the Republic of Ireland, just over a
fifth of those in employment work in public administration,
health and education services.’ (CSO, 2008, p.77- 78).
Under the category Health (which covers social services), comparative
statistics show that 9.8% of the employed workforce in the ROI work in
this sector, in contrast to 13.7% in NI (CSO, 2008).
At the height of the economic boom in 2006,
over 11% of people of working age in
employment in ROI were non-Irish and non
UK nationals, compared to just over 3% in
NI (CSO, 2008).
Why the difference?
Two possible factors – poor image of NI? Racism?
A Government sponsored survey indicates that racist
attitudes to migrant workers (many of whom are from
former Eastern bloc countries) in NI are among the
strongest in Europe (DHSS&PS, 2007). Parallels can be drawn
between sectarian and racist ideologies in their rejection of ‘the other’
and their exclusionary impact on marginalised and minority groups.
Although there was a perception that cross-border mobility on the island increased greatly in
the decade from 1997 (Moran, 2004; Wilson and McCrystal, 2007), and despite concerted
and sustained efforts to facilitate such movements (O’Brien, 2001; NSWQB, 2009) this is not
borne out by these figures.
For social workers qualified in NI who applied to have their qualifications recognised in ROI, a spike of increased mobility is apparent in the years 2000 -2002, at the time of a shortage of social workers in the ROI. Yet the actual numbers remain small, peaking at 33 in 2001 (but still less than Australia  and Great Britain ).
For eight of the last eleven years, annual numbers from NI have been below twenty, reducing further to 6 in 2007 (the same figure as that of 1996). This suggests that NI graduates, (perhaps as a result of greater employment opportunities at home) became less inclined in recent years to seek employment in ROI.
Additional figures obtained by the NISCC suggest that despite differences in access to third-level education (with free fees in the ROI for undergraduate degrees) very few NI applicants qualified as social workers in ROI and returned for work in NI (3 in 2005; and 1 each in 2007 and 2008).
In the reverse direction, that of ROI-qualified workers applying for recognition in NI, the traffic has been insignificant consisting of 4 in 2005 and 5 in 2006, dropping to 1 in 2007 and none in 2008.
British-qualified workers who move to the Republic. These
numbers more than doubled from 20 in 1999 to 44 in 2000.
then have remained below 30 (2005 - 27; 2006 - 26; 2007 –
26), British-qualified workers comprised 15% of the workforce
in 2005 (NSWQB, 2006).
significantly higher than those from NI is notable.
In contrast, there is negligible mobility of British qualified
workers into NI – with a total of two in the entire period from
2004 – 2008.
Table Three: Mobility into ROI and NI, 2004 – 2007 (2004 – 2007)
Extracted from figures supplied by NSWQB and NISCC
In the first social work census in ROI undertaken in 1999, 8.9% (136) of the workforce held international qualifications.
The most recent census carried out in 2005, shows that over 30% of
the current workforce hold international qualifications.
This raises many questions.
Highest numbers from 2004 - 2007 came from UK, USA, Australia & Northern Ireland but significant increases in recent years from India, Germany, South Africa and Nigeria suggest other factors involved. For example
What attention is paid at agency/employer level to the distinctive needs of migrant social workers?
Do induction programmes address their specific needs?
What are their experiences of living and working in Ireland?
The British experience suggests that insufficient attention is paid to these dimensions (Simpson, 2009; Sims, 2009).