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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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Local european and global an exploration of migration patterns of social workers into ireland

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


Genesis of the study
Genesis of the Study.

  • Collaboration with a colleague at Queens University on an earlier comparative study of students experiences of practice learning north and south. Wilson G., O’Connor E., Walsh T., Kirby M. Reflections on practice learning in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland: Lessons from student experiences. Social Work Education (2009) 28(6):631-45

    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.


  • Since 1996 the Awarding Bodies for Social Work qualifications - the Northern Ireland Social Care Council (N.I.S.C.C.) and the National Social Work Qualifications Board (N.S.W.Q.B.) in the Republic of Ireland have established formal mechanisms for cooperation, the aims of which include :

    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

  • Initiatives to support these aims include the

    ‘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

Focus of this study
Focus of this Study

  • Taking account of issues raised in international literature in relation to social work mobility, it was decided to examine migration of social workers between both jurisdictions on the island of Ireland, in the overall context of migration patterns of social workers into Ireland north and south.

Literature from uk
Literature from UK

Workforce mobility in the UK

  • Shortages in the locally-trained workforce in Great Britain, especially in Children’s Services led to increased recruitment of internationally qualified social workers over the last twenty years.

  • Since 1999, some 10,000 social workers from over eighty countries had their qualifications recognised in Great Britain (Welbourne et al., 2007).

  • Currently, some 7, 200 out of a total of 74,000 social workers registered with the English General Social Care Council (GSCC) gained their qualifications outside the UK, nearly 10% of the workforce.

Uk patterns
UK patterns

  • Of these 10%, only 18% are from European Union countries

  • The largest number (66%) come from former Commonwealth countries, specifically Australia and New Zealand (21%), Canada and the US (18%); South Africa (15%) and India (12%) (Hussein et al., 2009)

  • The top ten countries of received applications (for recognition of qualification) to the GSCC between 2004 and 2009 were Australia (1316), South Africa (1147), United States (1107), India (934), Canada (474), Germany (449), New Zealand (366), Zimbabwe (301), Romania (292) and the Philippines (186) (SCD, 2009)

  • Emerging trends suggest a sharp increase in those trained in India, and a decline in the proportion trained in South Africa in recent years (Hussein et al., 2009).

Uk literature
UK Literature

Benefits of international recruitment identified by employers, trainers and managers include:

  • reductions in vacancy rates

  • esp. filling gaps in key shortage areas (such as children’s services)

  • creation of a more diverse staff mix.

    Challenges include:

  • issues of ethical recruitment policies

  • the transferability of qualifications and skill sets and

  • cultural expectations and differences (Evans et al., 2006).

Uk literature1
UK Literature

Recruitment and induction practices have improved

over time.

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).

Uk literature2
UK literature

A study of the qualitative experiences of migrant social

workers found that support needs vary because of the

heterogeneity of the group.

  • Issues of linguistic misunderstandings and problems of acclimatisation to nation-specific roles, policies and legislation indicate a need for additional training in language competence and for longer induction processes (Sims, 2009).

  • Outstanding research questions identified by Hussein et al. (2009) relate to the experiences of service-users and carers; colleagues and managers, as well as the longer-term plans of workers (who stays, and who goes?), and what factors influence these decisions.

Uk picture
UK picture

  • The central question appears to be whether internationally qualified workers are ‘fit for purpose’, with the focus firmly on local employers’ needs to address workforce shortages.

  • Such priorities seem to have been reinforced by Inquiry recommendations in the wake of recent child care tragedies including the need for ‘a conversion qualification and English language test for internationally qualified children’s social workers that ensures understanding of legislation, guidance and practice in England’ (Laming, 2009, p. 55).

Moving to ireland
Moving to Ireland

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).

Moving to ireland1
Moving to Ireland

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.

Shortage of social workers
Shortage of social workers

  • A reorganisation of health and social services, increased responsibilities under new children’s legislation and an expansion of posts in both probation and healthcare settings led to specific shortages of qualified social workers in ROI from 2000 onwards.

  • While an increase in training places took place in the late 1990s (to a total annual output of approx 200 practitioners) it was insufficient to meet increased demand.

  • Employers launched recruitment drives in specific locations in Canada, South Africa and Australia in 2001 and 2002 (Moran, 2004).

  • Increase in qualified social workers from Irish courses started to impact from 2003.

Inward migration from 2000
Inward migration from 2000

  • The numbers of internationally-qualified social workers who applied to have their qualifications recognised peaked across the years 2001- 2005, topping over 300 in 2002, before dropping below 100 (the 1999 level) in 2007 for the first time.

  • Applicants from 42 countries applied for recognition of their qualification between 1996 and 2007 (NSWQB, 2008).

  • In 2007, the countries most represented in these applications were Great Britain (26), India (17), Australia (16) and the USA (7) (NSWQB, 2008).

Inward migration to ni
Inward migration to NI

  • In NI, a slow decline in the numbers applying for social work training and particular difficulties in recruitment and retention in child and family care in the 1990s (Wilson and McCrystal, 2007) were resolved with the introduction of a degree-level entry qualification in 2004, along with incentive packages provided by employers and improved conditions

  • With 300 social workers now qualifying each year there has been no need for recruitment drives outside the region

  • Statistics supplied by the Northern Ireland Social Care Council (NISCC) indicate that since 2005, while overall figures of inward migration of social workers remain low, there have been only very slight increases in workers with international qualifications seeking recognition from a total of 24 countries (Table 2)

Movements between ni and roi
Movements between NI and ROI

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 [34] and Great Britain [39]).

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.

Movements from great britain into roi and ni
Movements from Great Britain into ROI and NI

  • A far stronger trend exists in relation to the numbers of

    British-qualified workers who move to the Republic. These

    numbers more than doubled from 20 in 1999 to 44 in 2000.

  • Although the numbers in 2004 were a clear peak and since

    then have remained below 30 (2005 - 27; 2006 - 26; 2007 –

    26), British-qualified workers comprised 15% of the workforce

    in 2005 (NSWQB, 2006).

  • That the numbers coming from GB are consistently

    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.

International movements of social workers into roi and ni 2004 2007
International movements of social workers into ROI and NI (2004 – 2007)

  • Numbers for all groups are significantly higher for inward mobility to ROI than to NI.

  • The biggest increase in recent years for both has been workers qualified in India.

  • A slight increase from Scandinavian and Eastern European countries (specifically Sweden, Slovakia, and Romania).

  • Taking the cumulative figures for Ireland as a whole for 2004 - 2007, the highest numbers of incoming workers continue to come from former Commonwealth and/or English speaking countries.

  • Great Britain accounts  for the most (125), followed by USA (74), Australia (64), India (54) and NI to ROI (44).

  • The only non-English speaking country to enter double digits is Germany (24).

  • The next four in rank are: South Africa (18), Nigeria (11), Canada (13) and New Zealand (11).

Local european and global an exploration of migration patterns of social workers into ireland

Table Three: Mobility into ROI and NI, 2004 – 2007 (2004 – 2007)

Extracted from figures supplied by NSWQB and NISCC

Limitations of paper
Limitations of paper (2004 – 2007)

  • The statistics relate to qualifications awarded in another country; they do not relate to nationality per se.

  • They refer to those who apply for their qualifications to be recognised, not those who successfully gain employment, although data relating to the composition of the workforce in ROI (NSWQB, 2006) is a useful supplement.

  • We are unable to ascertain definitively whether movements are of a permanent or temporary nature.

Significant shifts in workforce
Significant shifts in workforce (2004 – 2007)

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.

  • How does this phenomenon impact on practice, on policy, and on service-users?

  • When the majority of this 30% come with qualifications from either NI (5.7%) or elsewhere in the UK (15%), is this influential in shaping local social work policies and practices?

  • When the remainder from all other countries combined accounted for only 9.7% (NSWQB, 2006), how visible or possible is their influence on local policies and practices in contrast to the weight of the 20% from the entire UK?

Local european and global an exploration of migration patterns of social workers into ireland
Does a combination of cultural and linguistic affinities ‘ (2004 – 2007)gives the best chances for professional mobility’ (Kornbeck, 2004, p. 153)?

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

  • The attraction of Ireland as a destination for those with Irish ancestry.

  • The impact of the broader phenomenon of the ‘feminization of migration’ (Castles and Miller, 2009);

  • The impact of international recruitment drives in the Philippines and India for health and social care staff;

  • The impact of emerging non-white ethnic communities in Ireland (CSO, 2008).

Implications of diverse workforce
Implications of diverse workforce (2004 – 2007)

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).

Implications of diverse workforce1
Implications of diverse workforce (2004 – 2007)

  • What, if any, influence internationally qualified social workers have on existing local practices and policies?

  • Are they more or less likely than the nationally-qualified to reach positions of influence within organisational hierarchies and professional associations, and if so, with what effect?

  • And if effects can be established, are they to the benefit or detriment of local practices and interests?

  • In particular, of interest to policy makers in ROI, has to be the impact of the high proportion of the workforce (over 20%) from Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

Implications of diverse workforce2
Implications of diverse workforce (2004 – 2007)

  • Thirdly, what impact does such a diversity of social workers have on the construction of local social work identities and practices and how are these played out in day-today interactions in agencies and with clients?

  • Gray and Fook (2004) from a postmodern perspective make the point that an effort to universalise experience can risk omitting ‘marginal and different perspectives’ (p. 638), and they question whose discourse dominates and why.

  • This is a question that we consider of importance in the construction of Irish social work in current times.

Impact of pan european ambition
Impact of pan-European ambition (2004 – 2007)

  • Couldtoo enthusiastic a campaign to forge a pan-European workforce cause unintended consequences which are anathema to social work ideals; specifically could it result in the ‘othering’ of the many non-European social workers now working in Ireland, and the subsequent loss of many voices who play active roles in the construction of contemporary social work?

  • Simpson (2009) maintains that attention needs to be drawn to ways in which ‘new forms of racism and exclusion are developing in relation to internal EU migration’ (p. 664)

  • to this we add the need for explicit recognition of the growing phenomenon of the feminisation of migration and related inequalities

  • Sims (2009) and Laming (2009) identified issues which arise from the perspective of the employer in relation to the heterogeneity of the incoming group’s needs in language competence and induction training.

  • Also at issue from a broader social justice perspective are the potentially diverse needs of workers relating to migration pathways, family situations and the presence or absence of local support networks.

Conclusions (2004 – 2007)

  • Our analysis of recent trends in migration to Ireland of internationally-qualified social workers indicates

  • that the period of greatest activity spans the years 2000 – 2006;

  • that levels of inward migration were significantly higher into ROI than into NI;

  • that, excluding Great Britain, migration from other European countries is minimal when compared with that from English-speaking and/or Commonwealth countries such as Canada, the US, Australia/New Zealand and South Africa. These data replicate some of the trends evident in the British data (Hussein et al, 2009).

  • Emerging trends in both include an increase in Indian/Asian – trained workers and in the ROI data, increases in workers with Nigerian or Eastern European qualifications.

Next steps
Next steps (2004 – 2007)

  • Need for research to explore the experiences of all stakeholders in relation to a culturally diverse social work workforce.

  • Consider parallel lessons and implications for us as social work educators.