It has come to my attention, after reading the most recent edition of Tes, that there is a growing crisis in the United Kingdom when it comes to hiring and retaining internationally trained teachers (meaning teachers trained outside of the EU). Being an internationally trained teacher myself – emigrating to the UK in 2008 – the article really struck a cord. It brought to mind the struggles that I have had to go through over the years. My story, however, has a happy ending because I was given residency in 2016; many international teachers today will not get the same chance.
My experience was not smooth sailing: I was constantly worried that I'd get denied and deported every time I had to renew my visa (which was 4 times over the ten years). When I first came to the UK, I was advised by the supply agency that originally employed me that I could enter the country on what was then called a 'Working Holiday’ visa (I imagine this was the predecessor to the Tier 5 Youth Mobility visa). This entitled me to work in the UK for two years, after which I'd have to obtain a Tier 2 visa. Initially, this was fine by me, as I wasn't sure whether or not I'd want to stay beyond those initial two years.
As it turned out, I fell in love with this country. I fell in love with my job, and I knew that I wanted to stay. I made my desire to stay very clear to my employer and they assured me that they'd obtain the necessary certificate of sponsorship to help support my initial Tier 2 visa application.
This is where I hit my first hurdle. Despite the school's promises of support, someone made a bit of a fudge up and left their part of the application process sit for too long. Suddenly, I was invited into a meeting with our then business manager, who told me that mistakes had been made and that they hadn't obtained the certificate of sponsorship in time to support my application. Obviously, I started to cry. The man pushed a box of tissues at me and told me I'd have to go home.
It was an agonising experience. I had to fly back to Canada, where I spent three long weeks unsure of whether or not I'd ever be able to return to my job. Throughout this time, I was sending in extensive cover work, in some vain hope that this would allow me to keep my job and show what a team player I was. Luckily, I was allowed to return to work; I came back with my new Tier 2 visa and a further two years of reassurance that I'd be able to keep my job. It was such a huge relief.
However, every two years, when the visa came up for renewal, I had new hurdles to jump through. It felt to me that the criteria for the visa changed every time I applied. Many of the issues I faced had to do with how much money I could prove I had in the bank, or how much money I made. As you're probably aware, teachers within the first few years of the job don't get paid record-breaking sums. There was no way I could hit the wage requirement, nor was I able to amass the required savings they requested, something like £3,000-£5,000 had to be in my bank account and remain that way for a sustained period of time. I had to prove this with bank statements and letters from my employer. The bank of Mum and Dad had to help me out on more than one occasion. Frankly, not everyone has that option.
Once again, I had to rely on my school for help as well. They wrote me an accompaniment letter, which stated that they'd financially support me with the £3,000 needed to qualify for the visa. While it was just a statement of intent (no money actually changed hands) it meant a lot to me that the school would support me in that way. I'm not sure if it helped my application or not, but either way, I was granted another visa. It probably helped that I was undergoing a Master’s at the University of Cambridge though (again, this was half-funded by my school, yet another reason why I truly love working where I do).
Let's not also forget that applying for these visas themselves comes with a hefty fee. In my experience, the fee varied from £750 to £1,500 over the four instances I had to apply for it. Paying this fee doesn't even guarantee your application is going to be successful: I can only imagine how horrible it must feel to have paid out such a huge sum, only to be denied. It was a hard enough hit when the result came back successful.
Because the first two years I was in the country were on the 'Working Holiday' visa, I knew I had to remain on the Tier 2 visa for 5+ years in order to obtain residency status. At this point, I knew that this was the route I wanted to go down. I was engaged to an English man, we were looking at buying a house, and I was now in a middle leadership role at my school. Leaving all of this behind me was an unfathomable thought, but one that I knew was a real possibility. Once again, another application was filled in, more money was sent along (over £1,500) and I had to sit the 'Life in the UK' test. It was a painfully long wait. I kept thinking of all the reasons why they'd deny me residency, after all, this was during a time when immigration was starting to become a very hot topic. When the result finally came through, with the little card that identified me as a resident with 'Indefinite Leave to Remain' I cried. A lot.
Over the past ten years, I've grown so much as an educator. I'll admit, when I first arrived I was very, very green. But what newly qualified teacher isn't? It took a good year to adapt to the curriculum, GCSEs and the idea of Ofsted – ask any NQT trained in the UK, and I bet they'll say the exact same thing. However, once I found my feet, I continued to grow and progress into the teacher I am today. I consider myself just as competent as my UK-trained colleagues. My students are not (and never were) at a disadvantage for having me, a foreign trained teacher, at the front of the classroom.
This is why I am very much in support of the new Tes campaign Let Them Teach (#letthemteach). I think that the entire teaching profession should be added to the 'shortage occupation' list. There is a real recruitment and retainment crisis in education at the minute, and if internationally trained teachers like me aren't given a fair chance, the crisis is only going to get worse.
Krista Carson is an internationally trained teacher who has worked in the UK for 10 years