Overseas Trained Teachers

Changes to the immigration system - issues for international teachers

The UK Government has announced plans to change the immigration system. Many of these changes will come into force from 1st January 2021.

Currently, teachers from the European Union (EU) [1] have a right to have their professional status and qualifications recognised to work as a qualified teacher in the UK. From 1st January 2021, teachers from the EU other than teachers who are Irish citizens, who are not already living or working in the UK, will be subject to the same immigration rules as teachers from other parts of the world. Teachers who are Irish citizens will continue to be able to enter, live and work in the UK after January 2021.

Further information about Brexit and the issues affecting teachers from the EU who are working and/or living in the UK before 31st December 2020 is available on our Brexit page.

The immigration system after 31st December 2020

After 31st December 2020, qualified teachers from the EU who are not already living or working in the UK will need a visa to come and work as a teacher in the UK. However, teachers who are Irish citizens will not need a visa as they will continue to have the right to enter, live and work in the UK.

There are two main visa routes that teachers from outside the EU use to come and teach in the UK:

  1. Tier 2 (General) work visa.
  2. Tier 5 (Youth Mobility) visa. Currently, this route is open to teachers from Australia, Canada, Japan, Monaco, New Zealand, Hong Kong, Korea, Taiwan, and British Overseas Territories who are under the age of 30.

Graduate visa

People who graduate from a UK university, including those who graduate from a postgraduate initial teacher training course, can work in the UK for up to two years after graduating (three years for those who have a PhD). Graduates can work in any job, including working as a teacher, during this period. Teachers who work on a graduate visa will be able to switch to another visa, e.g. Tier 2 (General) work visa, without leaving the country.

Changes to the Tier 2 (General) visa route

The Government is introducing a tradable points-based-system (PBS) for Tier 2 visas. A worker will need to gain 70 points to be eligible to apply for a visa. There are three essential criteria that the worker needs to meet:

  • a job offer from an approved sponsor (20 points)
  • an appropriate level of fluency in English (10 points); and
  • the job being at the appropriate skill level (20 points) - teaching is a skilled job and meets this criterion.

The remaining points are tradable. In the case of teaching, a public sector pay threshold will apply with the threshold being the minimum national pay rate for qualified teachers. The arrangements recognise the different pay rates for England, including inner and outer London rates, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.

The Government has also set a minimum salary threshold of £20,480 for new entrants to the labour market. This minimum threshold applies to unqualified teachers. It also applies to teachers who work part time and to other positions such as instructor and teaching assistant. In the case of a teacher who works part time, their salary should be prorated to the national pay rate and the teacher will need to earn at least £20,480 to be eligible for a visa.

Working as a qualified teacher or an unqualified teacher

Teachers who hold a recognised teaching qualification and who have relevant experience may be able to work as a qualified teacher in the UK. The relevant UK jurisdiction will determine whether the teacher’s qualifications are recognised.

In the case of Northern Ireland, applications should be made to the General Teaching Council for Northern Ireland (GTCNI) via their web page Registration Process.

Applications for registration in Scotland should be made to the General Teaching Council for Scotland (GTCS) via their web page Qualified Outside Scotland.

In Wales, only those who gained qualifications in the UK or EEA are eligible to be considered for qualified teacher status. Teachers from Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the USA who were awarded QTS in England and teachers in England who have QTLS are not recognised as qualified teachers in Wales. Further information is available from the Education Workforce Council via their web page Practitioners Trained Outside Wales.

In England, overseas qualified teachers with at least two years' teaching experience from some countries (currently EU countries, Australia, Canada, Iceland, New Zealand, Norway, Switzerland and the USA) can apply for QTS. Qualified teachers from other countries will need to undertake assessment to gain QTS. In the case of qualified, experienced teachers, it should be possible to gain QTS via the assessment-only route. Further information on the assessment-only route can be found on the Get into Teaching web page Specialist Training Options: Assessment Only.

Overseas trained teachers can work in the UK as an unqualified teacher for up to four years. Teachers need to gain qualified teacher status in order to continue working as a teacher after this period, or meet other criteria that allows them to continue working in the UK.

There are very specific circumstances where the ‘four-year rule’ can be extended. It is possible to extend the four-year period if the teacher has had time off for pregnancy, maternity, paternity or parental leave. In any of these instances, the four-year period can be extended by the period of eligible leave.

Issues and the NASUWT position

Pay and progression

The NASUWT believes that teachers who have Tier 2 visas should be subject to the same pay and conditions as other teachers. The plans provide a starting point for this to happen. However, the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) finds that migrant workers tend to be clustered around existing salary thresholds. [2] The MAC concludes that this indicates that employers would like to pay migrant workers less if they were able to do so.

The lack of national pay scales in England and Wales and inequitable performance management policy and practice mean that many teachers struggle to move up the pay range. There is also an increased risk that some groups of teachers will encounter particular difficulties in securing pay progression. The NASUWT is concerned that teachers who have a visa are at particular risk of such practice. Such teachers should contact their NASUWT Representative for advice and support if they believe that they are being treated unfairly or differently to other teachers in the school.

The NASUWT will continue to press the governments in England and Wales to introduce national pay scales for teachers and for these to be linked to clear pathways that recognise teachers’ experience and responsibilities.

Recognition of qualifications

The NASUWT is concerned that governments are failing to recognise the qualifications and experience of overseas trained teachers from some countries. Such teachers face the burden of undertaking and providing evidence for an assessment-only route. Working as an unqualified teacher while undertaking assessment means that such teachers are not getting recognition or recompense for their experience and skills. Further, working as an unqualified teacher may make the teacher more vulnerable to exploitation by an unscrupulous employer.

The NASUWT will continue to challenge UK governments to recognise qualifications from a wider range of countries. Unqualified teachers should contact the NASUWT for advice and support if they believe that they are treated unfairly.

[1] The arrangements and changes also apply to teachers from EEA and EFTA countries (Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein) and Switzerland.
[2] Migration Advisory Committee (January 2020), A Points-Based System and Salary Thresholds for Immigration. Paragraph 5.7