Why the U.K. Government needs to rethink its position on immigration and foreign teachers

I love the U.K.

I love the culture, the history, Wetherspoon’s, and everything else that makes the U.K. unique, from quiz nights to pigs in blankets. As a Canadian, I felt completely at home in England, where I lived for two years while I worked as a secondary school history teacher. I was forced to leave England however, due to misfortune, and have found that the prospect of my being able to return is becoming increasingly bleak.

I am writing this because I want to talk about the problems schools are going to begin to face when it comes to finding and recruiting qualified foreign teachers in the future. As a foreign teacher who once lived and worked in the U.K., I think I am in a unique position to discuss these matters because I have observed the teaching shortage get increasingly worse, while at the same time, the policies that effectively keep foreign teachers out of the U.K. job market increase.

At the root of this problem, I believe, is a disconnect between the government and schools, as on the one hand, you have schools becoming more desperate to find teachers and thus filling positions by and means necessary, and on the other hand, you have the government making the situation worse by making it more difficult for qualified foreign teachers to be able to secure work visas to help alleviate this recruitment problem.

As I write this there are currently 5,774 teaching jobs listed on one of the main job recruiting websites in the U.K., and yet, only 893 of these positions, maths, chemistry, and physics, are on the U.K.’s skills shortage list. The skills shortage list enables employers to recruit foreign workers without having to undergo extraneous visa conditions such as market tests and financial requirements, and yet, only 15% of teaching jobs currently qualify.

The first step the U.K. government needs to do in order to solve the teacher shortage is acknowledge that this shortage extends beyond the three identified subject areas. This will allow more foreign teachers who specialize outside of maths and sciences to be able to secure work visas and occupy vacant positions.

The teacher shortage is perhaps worse than the government understands as a large number teachers who are currently occupying teaching jobs are foreign workers from Commonwealth countries like Canada and Australia, who are on Youth Mobility Visas, as I was during my time in the U.K. The problem with this is that the Youth Mobility Visa is only valid for two years and is impossible to renew, meaning that the large number of foreign teachers who are occupying jobs are only a temporary solution. If these teachers want to continue to work in the U.K. they must either hope that their grandparents were U.K. citizens, so that they can apply for an ancestry visa, or that the school they are working for has the financial means and understanding of the sponsorship process to undergo a lengthy visa procedure with them in the hopes of keeping them on.

To make matters worse, the U.K. government continues to introduce measures that will make recruiting foreign teachers on Youth Visas more difficult. Measures such as the Immigration Healthcare Surcharge will only discourage new foreign teachers from taking the risk of relocating to another country when they will have to pay the normal cost of the visa process, which can be quite hefty, along with an additional £400.00 for the IHS, as well as finding and paying for their accommodations. All of this before they’ve even set foot in a British classroom.

This coupled with the fact that many of these teachers will not be able to stay in the country for longer than the two years of their youth visa makes the prospect of solving the teacher shortage crisis using qualified foreign teachers difficult. When countries like China and South Korea are often willing to pay for teachers flights, visas, and discount their accommodation, paying loads of money to teach in England’s notoriously difficult classrooms will become less and less of a draw, especially when it is becoming increasingly difficult to make a long term career out of it.

In terms of my own experience, towards the end of youth mobility visa I sought employment in a school that promised me that they would be able to meet the sponsorship requirements for me to secure a work visa. I was a little nervous undergoing this process, as I understood how much of a minefield the visa requirements could be, but the school assured me that they had done it in the past; sure enough, they were able to provide me with a sponsorship certificate.

All that I now needed to do was return to Canada and submit my documents, pay the fees (which were upwards of £1000.00 including flights back to Canada), and hope that my paperwork was approved so that I would be given a work visa. Unfortunately for me, the school I was working for applied for the wrong type of sponsorship documents, thus leading to my visa application being denied.

Since then, I have been stuck back in Canada and have been desperately trying to return to England. This task is frustrating because I am aware of the huge need for qualified teachers and I would love nothing more than to return, and yet, the U.K. government continues to place obstacles in the way. Not only has the task become more expensive, but starting in April, it will be impossible for foreign teachers to secure indefinite leave to remain, meaning that the longest most of them will be able to live and work in the U.K. is for five years.

I completely understand the fears of over population and the threats foreign workers can pose for U.K. nationals in filling desired jobs. However, in this case, where the demand for teachers is so high that more and more schools are resorting to using unqualified individuals to fill vacancies, I believe that the U.K. government must act in a way that will ensure that qualified foreign teachers are encouraged to come to the U.K. and be able to secure long-term careers.

This is the right measure to take as it will benefit the U.K.’s economy, through taxes, the teachers themselves, who are often young, enthusiastic, and looking to make a difference, and most importantly, this would benefit the children, who would be receiving their education from qualified teaching professionals with the added benefit of learning about the world from someone who has lived in another country.

It was never my intention to fall in love with England. But after spending two years taking in English history and culture, I can say without a doubt that my dream would be to return to the U.K., find a history teaching post, and undertake a long career educating the youth of England about their rich history. I only wish the U.K. government would understand that there is a subject wide teacher shortage and that there are many foreign teachers out there, like myself, who would love a second chance to return to a country we love.