Exclusive: FCDO to become 'reserved' department, will not be hiring foreign nationals

Photo by: Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office / CC BY

LONDON — The United Kingdom’s Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office is to become a “reserved” government department that does not recruit foreign nationals, according to a spokesperson.

In what was branded a “disturbing” development by a former official, FCDO will now hire only U.K. nationals for jobs in the department, though those non-U.K. nationals currently employed are permitted to keep their jobs.

FCDO was recently formed from a merger of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Department for International Development. While FCO was a department “reserved” for U.K. nationals due to the sensitivity of some of its work, DFID was an “unreserved” department and employed scores of foreign nationals, including many Europeans, to carry out aid and development work.

“It merely has the look of an organization that cannot be bothered to nuance its systems to get the best folk for the job.”

— A former DFID official

There are 154 non-U.K. nationals, who previously worked at DFID, who will remain in their jobs in FCDO. They, along with other former FCO staff on insecure contracts, are said to have been in a “precarious” position since the merger.

“The FCDO has a vital role in promoting the U.K.’s interests around the world, including safeguarding our national security,” a Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office spokesperson said in a statement on Wednesday.

“In line with the Civil Service Nationality Rules, it has been agreed the FCDO will be a reserved department, meaning all roles in the department (both overseas and in the U.K.) are open to U.K. nationals only,” continued the statement. “All non-U.K. national staff employed by FCDO will keep their existing roles and will be able to apply for others so that they can progress in their careers.”

Exclusive: Staff cuts loom at FCDO, union claims

A briefing paper from the Public and Commercial Services Union, seen by Devex, says hundreds of staff members at the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office are in a "precarious position."

According to the Civil Service Nationality Rules, “reserved” roles are those that require “special allegiance to the Crown” and relate mainly to jobs involving intelligence, national security, and immigration. Diplomatic posts are reserved “unless the responsible Minister decides otherwise in relation to a specified post or posts.” The issue does not impact local staff hired by FCDO in-country.

“This is a disturbing development,” said a former DFID official, speaking on condition of anonymity to preserve professional ties. “It is one thing for a foreign ministry to confine staffing to nationals when the ministry only deals with foreign affairs, narrowly defined. But when the ministry takes on broader tasks beyond the usual foreign affairs remit, like foreign aid, such a policy looks misconceived, as if applying a blanket approach despite the range of activities being undertaken and where a range of levels of security would seem more appropriate.”

The source continued: “There would be many roles that could be performed without compromising 'security.' It merely has the look of an organization that cannot be bothered to nuance its systems to get the best folk for the job in hand.”

Update, Nov. 19: This story was amended to include additional information.

About the author

  • William Worley

    William Worley is the U.K. Correspondent for Devex, covering DFID and British aid. Previously, he reported on international affairs, policy, and development. He also worked as a reporter for the U.K. national press, including the Times, Guardian, Independent, and i Paper. His reportage has included work on the Rohingya refugee crisis in Bangladesh, drought in Madagascar, the "migrant caravan" in Mexico, and Colombia’s peace process. He can be reached at william.worley@devex.com.