Changes to the immigration system - issues for international teachers

Teachers who are citizens of a European Economic Area (EEA) country or Switzerland  who do not have settled or pre-settled status are now subject to the same rules as teacher from other parts of the world. A teacher from an EEA country or Switzerland who does not have settled or pre-settled status will now need a visa to enable them to work in the UK

However, Irish citizens do not need a visa and continue to have a right to enter, live and work in the UK.

Visa routes for teachers wanting to work in the UK

There are two main visa routes that teachers can 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 people under the age of 30 from Australia, Canada, Japan, Monaco, New Zealand, Hong Kong, Korea, San Marino, Taiwan, and British Overseas Territories.

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 has introduced 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 applies 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 England, teachers need to gain Qualified Teacher Status (QTS) in order to work in state-maintained schools. Some academies and independent schools may also require teachers to have QTS.

Currently, teachers from EU countries, Australia, Canada, Iceland, New Zealand, Norway, Switzerland and the USA who have at least two years’ teaching experience can apply for QTS. Qualified and experienced teachers from other countries need to undertake assessment in order to gain QTS. However, the rules are changing.

This will mean that teachers who gained their qualifications outside the UK who want to teach as a qualified teacher in England will need to obtain professional recognition in order to gain QTS.

The Government will be publishing details of the professional recognition service in the Autumn 2022.

Further information on the assessment-only route to gaining QTS can be found on the Get into Teaching web page Ways to Train.

In England, overseas qualified teachers can work for up to four years as an unqualified teacher in a maintained school or non-maintained special school. Teachers would 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. While it is not necessary to have QTS to work in an academy or independent school, many academies and independent schools look to recruit teachers who have QTS.

In Wales, overseas qualified teachers need to apply to the Education Workforce Council to see whether they are recognised as a qualified teacher in Wales. Further information is available from the Education Workforce Council via their web page Practitioners Trained Outside Wales.

Overseas qualified teachers who gained their teaching qualification in the UK may be recognised for QTS in Wales. However, teachers from Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the USA who were awarded Qualified Teacher Status (QTS) in England and teachers in England who have QTLS are not recognised as qualified teachers in Wales.

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. [1] 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 qualified 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] Migration Advisory Committee (January 2020), A Points-Based System and Salary Thresholds for Immigration. Paragraph 5.7