CHANGES to visa regulations mean boarding schools are being forced to pay their gap year assistants well below the minimum wage.
Hundreds of young people from countries such as Australia, New Zealand and South Africa spend the year before they go to university helping out in classes and with sport, music and drama.
But changes in the rules mean that they can only obtain visas to come here as volunteers, not as employees, who would qualify for the minimum wage. This means schools can only pay them pocket money of around pound;50 a week. The minimum wage is pound;3.50 an hour for 18 to 21-year-olds.
Now boarding chiefs are lobbying the Government to change the rules. Representatives from the Independent Schools Council and the Boarding Schools Association have met officials and are waiting to see whether their pleas have been successful.
Adrian Underwood, national director of the association, said: "As a result of a new and totally unexpected approach now being taken by government officials here and by visa officers in embassies and high commissions abroad, schools have in effect been debarred from treating gap year tutors as employees and paying them as such, if that is what they want to do."
Mr Underwood said: "This is quite contrary to the clear position agreed when the national minimum wage was introduced: that gap year students could work in our schools as volunteers or paid employees."
But a Home Office spokesperson said: "This is a concession to the immigration rules to allow people to work on a voluntary basis. The instructions dictate that assistants can only be paid pocket money each week, although larger amounts have been agreed on a case-by-case basis."
The organisations are now waitingto see whether the rules will be re-thought.
The Home Office spokesperson said: "We are in the process of amending the instructions on concessional volunteers and details will be issued shortly."