Kate Johnson, 28, trained as a teacher in New Zealand and taught there for four years. She came to the UK on a tier 5 Youth Mobility visa, finding teaching work in London with a supply agency. It wasn’t long before her employer, Star Primary School in Newham, made her role permanent.
When the time came for her visa to be renewed, Star Primary was happy to sponsor her visa application. But in the month she applied, Johnson’s salary of £38,000 fell well short of the £50,000 threshold that was needed to obtain a certificate of sponsorship.
The process of renewing a visa requires a trip back to one’s home country. One week before she was due to fly to New Zealand, Johnson was “devastated” to hear that her application had been rejected and she could not return as a teacher.
“I found it really stressful, with only a week’s notice to pack my life up and leave London. I’ve had to leave all my really good friends behind, and obviously James, my partner who I’ve been with for 11 months, we’d started planning a future together.
“Most of all, I was really upset to leave my job, which I love, and my 30 Year 1 children who I had such a strong bond with, and with such little notice for them and me.”
Now Johnson is back in Stratford, a village of 5,000 people in the region of Taranaki. “I’ve had to move back home now with no job and move back in with my parents, even though I had a job in a school who wanted to have me,” she says.
In London she was not just a classroom teacher, but the Year 1 group leader. The week she spoke to Tes, the Year 1 phonics screening test was taking place. “I’d been prepping my kids for that and now they don’t have their teacher to do that with them, which obviously has a huge impact.”
Her job was not depriving a British teacher of the role – to apply for a certificate of sponsorship, all employers have to complete a “resident labour market test”, showing that they advertised for the role in the UK. Star Primary’s advertisement attracted a “handful” of applicants.
An interview day was held, but the other candidates cancelled, with the result that Johnson was the only one who interviewed for the position.
“Since then they’ve had to readvertise – there’s other positions in the school that need filling, too – they still haven’t found anyone,” says Johnson. In the meantime, the school has had to remove a teacher from nursery to cover her class.
Teaching in Newham, most of her former pupils speak English as a second language, and some are refugees. “Sometimes you’re the only constant in their life and I had to leave them,” she says.