Nursing workforce – International recruitment

The NHS is the largest single employer in the UK, and we are proud that our workforce is extremely diverse – just like our patients. The NHS has always benefited from overseas recruitment and from nurses coming from other countries to live and work in England. Recruitment from outside of the UK continues to feature as an important part of the workforce supply strategy of NHS organisations, in line with the NHS People Plan. The NHS Long Term Plan set out the ambitions for the NHS over the next 10 years, identifying ethical international recruitment as a workforce priority.

International recruitment will be a vital component of support for ongoing management of COVID-19 in areas across England, for other service pressures, and for recovery for the NHS from the pandemic.

The 2021/2022 NHS priorities and operational planning guidance sets out the steps we need to take to sustainably increase the size of our workforce in line with the measures set out in the NHS Long Term Plan. To ensure that the NHS is able to grow for the future, health systems are asked to include the international recruitment of nursing staff in their plans for the next year.

The Nursing International Recruitment Programme

The Nursing International Recruitment Programme is delivering an ethical and sustainable recruitment model that supports NHS organisations to increase and develop their international recruitment plans.

The safe arrival, induction and embedding of new people into the NHS workforce is our number one priority for international recruitment. We have put in place a package of financial support for trusts to increase the number of international recruits they have, and as a priority to provide safe onboarding, induction and pastoral support for these recruits.

Our programme activity focuses on:

  • Supporting NHS trusts with international recruitment, including developing the NHS as the ‘destination of choice’ for internationally trained nurses
  • Supporting new, innovative and collaborative approaches to trust/system-led international recruitment, to reduce duplication and competition
  • Ensuring all international recruitment the NHS conducts is ‘nurse centred’ and includes effective induction, pastoral and professional support
  • Supporting trusts to access the international market for nurses

We are working with a number of partner organisations to deliver this programme of work and promote the NHS as an employer of choice for international nurses.

There are strict ethical standards for international recruitment for NHS trusts – these are especially important during the COVID-19 pandemic, which has had a significant impact on health and care services and workforce globally.

We are working with the Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC), and NHS Employers and other national bodies to support collaborative, effective and ethical international recruitment.

The DHSC has published a Code of practice for the international recruitment of health and social care personnel in England. The code of practice implements the World Health Organisation (WHO) global code of practice and ensures the fundamental principles of transparency, fairness and promotion of health systems sustainability are fully embedded in all international recruitment activity undertaken in the UK.

Some new potential supply nations are also emerging, and we will be working to understand which these may be, and to raise the profile of opportunities we can offer for nurses in the NHS.

The professional regulatory bodies are also playing an important role in enabling the safe and sustainable recruitment and employment of trained overseas professionals in the UK.

International Recruitment support offer for NHS trusts

We continue to support trusts to enable international recruitment and to ensure our international nurses are really well supported. This support includes:

  • A range of financial support to trusts for nursing international recruitment, in addition to midwifery international recruitment in 2021/22.
  • A Direct Support Programme working with cohorts of trusts to support effective international recruitment strategies, collaborative international recruitment plans, pastoral and professional best practice and implementation support. To find out more about any of this work please contact
  • A Universal Offer of support open to all trusts which includes:
    • An International Recruitment Masterclass webinar series providing guidance on collaborative recruitment and improving pastoral care. Please contact for more information.
    • Sharing learning and best practice to ensure consistent, high-quality offers and interventions. For more information please visit the International Recruitment NHS Futures Hub (this platform requires you to regsiter)
    • An online community for international recruitment leads to allow easier sharing of ideas and discussion. Find out more on the International Recruitment NHS Futures hub.
  • Research and resources to address key international recruitment drivers impacting trusts.
  • A small grants scheme, offering diaspora groups the opportunity to apply for funding to strengthen their pastoral support offer for international nurses in the UK.
  • 250 places on the Professional Nurse Advocate Scheme for international nurses across England.
  • Working with the Queen’s Nursing Institute to support six pilots across England in the direct recruitment of international nurses into community services.
  • The Department of Health and Social Care is developing new government-to-government agreements and working with agencies to facilitate recruitment of nurses from a broader range of countries, in line with ethical recruitment practice.

Refugee Nurse Support Pilot Programme

This programme, which is being delivered in partnership with Liverpool John Moores University (LJMU), RefuAid and Talent Beyond Boundaries (TBB), supports refugees who are qualified as nurses in their home country to resume their nursing careers in the NHS.

The programme offers bespoke training designed by LJMU to help participants prepare to return to nursing and work in the NHS. Participants are supported to secure NHS employment, initially in healthcare support workers roles, which they take up following the training and while they complete the process to become registered nurses in England. With support from RefuAid and TBB, participants are also offered enhanced pastoral care.

So far, two cohorts made up of 34 refugees who were already living in the UK have completed the training. The majority of participants have started, or are soon to start, working in NHS trusts in the North West of England and we’re continuing to support the others into NHS employment.

With support from the Department of Health and Social Care, the programme is now being extended to also support refugee nurses living elsewhere who want to come to the UK to rebuild their lives and become nurses in the NHS in England.

You can read more about the programme in this Royal College of Nursing article.

You can read more about the first cohort in this article from LJMU.

International nursing associations

For the third year running we have seen a notable increase in the in the number of people from outside the European Economic Area (EEA) on the permanent nursing register, rising from 84,316 to 92,260. For England alone, the number rose from 61,500 to 68,586.

The health and wellbeing and professional support of all of our workforce is a top priority and we work closely with nursing diaspora groups to ensure our international nurses have the pastoral support they need.

The International Recruitment team manages the ‘International Nursing Associations Diaspora’. This is the collective term for the identified international nursing associations in England that provide support to international nurses and midwives in the NHS.  This collaborative promotes services to NHS staff and works to advance the pastoral and professional support, and health and wellbeing of international nurses in the NHS. The diaspora supports the International Recruitment programme through providing data and insight that enables better understanding of the needs of international nurses and supports communities to be heard.

The organisations that make up the diaspora group are:

Find out more about our actions and initiatives to support ethnic minority nurses and midwives.