There was victory for the Tes #LetThemTeach campaign today, as the government made a formal commitment to consider giving international teachers higher priority for UK visas.
In its teacher recruitment and retention strategy, published today, the Department for Education said it would look at “whether there is a case for extending the teacher occupations” that are prioritised for visas beyond the subject areas which are already given special preference.
The #LetThemTeach campaign was launched after a Tes investigation last June revealed that desperately-needed foreign teachers were being forced to quit their jobs and leave the country at short notice because they were unable to obtain visas. School leaders told Tes that visa refusals were having a “critical” impact on their ability to fill vacancies.
Under the current immigration system, there is a monthly cap on the number of “tier 2” visas handed out to non-EU skilled workers.
When the monthly cap is hit, a points-based system comes into play which is heavily weighted towards applicants’ salaries.
For more than half of 2018 the cap was severely oversubscribed, which sent the salary threshold to qualify for a visa sky-high. This threshold peaked at £60,000 for several months of the year – an amount that exceeds more than 90 per cent of teachers' salaries.
However, professions which are listed by the Home Office as a “shortage occupation” receive a large number of points and are therefore prioritised for visas each month.
The list currently only includes teachers in a handful of subjects, and the #LetThemTeach campaign called for the entire teaching profession to be added to the list.
The campaign received backing from across the education system and political spectrum. Supporters included every major education union in the country, the House of Commons Education Select Committee, the Scottish government, and the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan.
In its long-awaited recruitment and retention strategy, the DfE says: “We know that there is a significant pool of potential teachers willing to move to England.”
The strategy says that in line with the government’s White Paper on immigration, “we will focus on the very highly skilled and those migrants who bring the most benefit to the UK”. It also says the government “remains committed to reducing net migration to sustainable levels”.
But it then adds: “The home secretary has commissioned the migration advisory committee to review the shortage occupation list. This will now include consideration of whether there is a case for extending the teacher occupations that are on the shortage occupation list beyond maths, physics, general science, computing and mandarin.
The strategy adds: “Where suitably skilled teachers are not available domestically, we will explore opportunities to develop new and existing partnerships, focusing particularly on language teachers.”
The commitment by the government to look at extending the shortage occupation list to more teachers contrasts with previous comments from the education secretary Damian Hinds, which downplayed the problem.