Refugee healthcare professionals

NHS Employers is working with the Department of Health and Social Care and charities to support the recruitment of skilled healthcare refugees.

26 May 2022

NHS Employers works closely with the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) and non-government organisations (NGOs) to help place skilled refugee nurses from both outside of the UK and within, back into employment. 

With the ongoing crisis in Ukraine, we know employers will want to do anything they can to provide support. As the situation with Ukrainian refugees coming to the UK develops each day, we continue to work with partners to determine next steps and will keep employers informed as this develops. Below is some key information and top tips on how employers can work together and actions that can be taken now. 

Important points

  • Alongside housing, employment is the second principal of a refugee.
  • Refugees can work in the UK without any restrictions. In common with other employees in the UK, refugees are covered by the Equality Act 2010 and the Human Rights Act 1998.
  • Most refugees were working before they arrived in the UK and have backgrounds in a wide variety of roles, from skilled trades to managers and senior officials. Research shows that refugees are highly motivated to find employment in the UK and to make a positive contribution at work.

Things to do as an employer that wishes to support refugees

Supporting employment and teams 

  • The Homes for Ukraine scheme allows individuals, charities, community groups and businesses in the UK to bring Ukrainians to safety including those with no family ties. Phase one of the scheme (which opened on 18 March 2022) allows sponsors in the UK to nominate a named Ukrainian or named Ukrainian family to stay with them in their home or in a separate property. Guidance is also available for UK Visa support for Ukrainian nationals.
  • The Ukraine Extension Scheme visa allows individuals to live, work and study in the UK if they're Ukrainian, or the family member of someone who is Ukrainian. They can apply to this scheme if they hold any valid UK visa, or held one that expired on or after 1 January 2022. This route does not currently lead to settlement – meaning that individuals may not be able to count any time spend in the UK with this visa as part of an application for indefinite leave to remain in the UK in future
  • Support programmes exist for other refugees, such as the Afghan citizens resettlement scheme.
  • If the refugee cannot display all the documents as detailed in the employment check standards, check online guidance such as the employing refugees guide and the employment checks frequently asked questions page for guidance on how to appoint refugees. This has been updated to include support in obtaining criminal record checks for Ukrainian nationals.  
  • Asking senior management to explain to staff the rationale behind hiring refugees is essential.
  • Offer training to both supervisors and staff on how they can support refugees.

Partnership working and engagement

  • Work closely with your local authorities (including strategic migration partnerships), chambers of commerce and employer associations to identify and maximise suitable work opportunities for refugees. Reach out to local NHS partners or colleagues across a system when connecting with local authorities and to strategic migration partnerships.
  • Reach out to refugees by going beyond the traditional forms of recruitment, for example, by contacting relevant civil society organisations Refuaid or the Refugee Council.
  • Investigate what regional projects are happening in your local area, such as Reache Northwest or Building Bridges.
  • Speak to any refugees that may currently work for you and ask them what was helpful for them.

Pastoral care

  • Consider the specific pastoral care requirements of refugees. Have discussions with individuals, as their unique needs may be different than traditional economic migrants.
  • Provide staff with opportunities to get involved, for example, introducing mentorship or buddy schemes between refugees and employees.
  • Put refugees in contact with co-workers to facilitate social integration or carpools. 
  • Ensure links are available to local community groups for refugees, other diaspora groups, and resources from the Home Office such as their welcome guide for new refugees.

Training and development

  • Provide incoming refugees with clear information on company policies and work habits. 
  • Language requirements are usually the biggest barrier for refugees to join the NHS. Consider how you will provide additional support in this area, such as seeking funding from local authorities or working with other local partners.
  • Provide short-term internships or apprenticeships to enable refugees to obtain recommendations and references.

Our work to support refugees

By working with partners including NHSEI and DHSC, the NHS has been supporting the employment of in-country refugees with RefuAid and refugees from Lebanon and Jordan with Talent Beyond Boundaries.

We have been exploring workforce shortages with provider organisations to match opportunities to a number of nurses in Lebanon and Jordan. Through connecting with Talent Beyond Boundaries, we have carried out a selection exercise and identified a small cohort of trusts to take part in a financially supported pilot which started in April 2021. We are currently discussing the viability of the pilot with the four trusts selected and more information will be available in due course.

The pilot will initially focus on supporting 40 refugee nurses transition to the UK and if successful, it could lead to a scalable ongoing workforce supply pipeline. The pilot was nominated for the Healthcare Recruitment Health Business Award in December 2020. 

NHS Employers is also engaging with RefuAid which has a number of skilled healthcare professionals here in the UK who are actively seeking employment in the NHS. This May 2021 BBC article highlights how the first two cohorts to Liverpool Heart and Chest Hospital NHS Foundation Trust were fast-tracked by a four-week residential pilot course. Usually, refugees are not able to work in the UK while their application is being processed, but this programme enables them to be assessed and supported to find appropriate placements.

RefuAid with Liverpool John Moores University, and NHS England and NHS Improvement recently won the Gold Award for Community Partnership Working at the Global Good Awards in recognition of its work to support refugee nurses with the process of becoming registered nurses in the UK and gaining employment commensurate with their skills and experiences. After a successful initial pilot of 14, the second cohort of 20 nurses has now begun. 

Over 110 refugees have been supported into nursing and healthcare assistant roles, and a recent nurse support programme celebration and learning event showcased the programme's work so far. Employing refugees in the NHS was also featured in a BBC Morning Live piece. 

If you are interested in discussing your current vacancies with RefuAid, please get in touch with

Information about regional work to support refugees 

  • Reache North West was set up to assist refugee and asylum seeking healthcare professionals in the North West to register their qualification in the UK. So far they have helped 224 healthcare professionals to secure roles. Based at Salford Royal NHS Foundation Trust, it provides advice and guidance, job search support, PLAB courses, support in finding supervised practise/adaptation and access to resources.
  • Sandwell and West Birmingham NHS Trust is helping to assist skilled refugees into NHS roles through the healthcare overseas professionals (HOP) programme.
  • The Building Bridges programme, run by the Refugee Council  is a NHS funded partnership for refugee health professionals living in London. The Refugee Council assist refugee doctors to re-qualify to UK standards and secure employment appropriate to their professional qualifications.

Best practice

NHS Employers has produced the following materials to support NHS trusts in employing refugee healthcare professionals.

  • Sandwell and West Birmingham Hospitals NHS Trust sits in the second most-deprived area of England, with low-quality housing, a transient community, and poor levels of education. The trust ran a number of widening participation initiatives, supporting people from the local refugee and migrant population to return to a career in healthcare, they have also engaged with young people and ex-offenders. 
  • Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust was invited to participate in the charity Growing Points' Hidden Talents initiative, aimed at helping people from disadvantaged backgrounds, principally refugees and asylum seekers, into work. The initiative was a great success and positively impacted both the trust and local community. 

Employing refugee healthcare professionals

The employment of refugee healthcare professionals has many benefits for employers and helps NHS organisations to meet their requirements in a number of areas, including workforce supply, equality and diversity and corporate social responsibility.

A refugee is a person who has had a positive decision on their claim for asylum under the 1951 United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees (the Refugee Convention) and has been granted leave to remain in the UK. Refugees are forced to leave their countries due to fear of persecution, often as a result of direct state action.

Refugees should be considered differently to economic migrants.

The UK government recently launched a Displaced Talent Mobility Pilot in collaboration with Talent Beyond Boundaries. Over the next one to two years, the pilot will aim to identify and address the administrative and legal barriers that refugees and other forcibly displaced job seekers face when seeking to move internationally as skilled workers. The pilot will have dedicated support and priority processing to Talent Beyond Boundaries candidates working in a variety of critical fields including IT, construction and engineering and will be placed via the Skilled Worker route.

Skilled refugees recruited in health and social care will continue to be recruited through the Health and Care Visa route of the points-based immigration system, where migrants are required to meet a particular level of skills and experience and employers are given sponsorship duties.

Refugees are able to work in the UK without any restrictions, and are legally protected from discrimination.

Guidance for employers on preventing illegal working, asylum seekers and refugees can be found on the UK Visas and Immigration website. The Refugee Council and the Equality and Human Rights Commission have also produced the Employing Refugees guide which provides employers with important information about employing a refugee and what documents need to be checked to demonstrate their entitlement to work in the UK. 

Our frequently asked questions page provides more information on how to appoint refugees if they cannot display all the documents as required in the employment check standards.