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Indefinite Leave to Remain: Why stringent requirements pose a severe threat to the UK education sector

With the UK’s divorce from the EU set to take place on 31st October, Halloween is set to become even scarier this year, especially whilst the event of a no-deal Brexit still looms in the air. Exacerbating the worries surrounding a no-deal crash is the government’s recent announcement that freedom of movement will end on day one of Brexit, leaving many migrant professionals trembling at the thought of legal limbos and chaotic visa applications. The UK education sector is among the most apprehensive, with stringent visa requirements, budget cuts and steep financial boundaries already prohibiting overseas teaching professionals from settling in the UK.

The Barriers of Indefinite Leave to Remain

Since the implementation of the UK’s ‘hostile environment’ policy back in 2012, fees for immigration applications have continued to rise. Currently, it costs an individual £2,389 to apply for Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR), with the cost for Indefinite Leave for an adult or child dependant relative rising from £585 in 2008-09 to £3,250 in 2017-18. To apply for British citizenship, individuals can additionally expect to pay £1,330.

What’s more, the ILR visa requires migrant teachers to meet several other strict requirements including having taught in the UK for five years, not committing any minor offences (even parking tickets can affect settlement claims) and not leaving the UK for too many days. This goes alongside substantial fees in the form of income tax, thousands of pounds worth of visa applications, extension fees and additional NHS health surcharges; all of which are doubled for each dependent child or partner.

Yet, it is the £35,000 minimum salary requirement which is the most outrageous, considering that the median salary for secondary school teachers in the UK is £26,025 and the salary of A-level and college teachers standing at £30,000. The end of free movement will only exacerbate current staff shortages as a result of these financial barriers, deterring migrant teachers who have already paid thousands of pounds, worked in British schools for at least five years and followed immigration and national laws whilst on a Tier 2 Work Visa. Under the current visa system, teachers are punished, rather than encouraged to continue to teach British children and contribute to an already fragile education sector.

Staff Shortages

Due to significant cuts in school funding and teacher’s pay, many teaching roles are officially in shortages in the UK including secondary education teachers in the fields of maths, physics, science, computer science and Mandarin. Whilst the recruitment of overseas teachers should help to solve this crisis, reports show EU teacher’s applications to already be dropping, reiterating warnings of a ‘looming crisis’ in attracting new staff. In fact, applicants from EU member states awarded qualified teacher status (QTS) fell by a quarter between 2016-2017 and 2017-2018, including a 17% drop in applicants from Spain and a 33% drop from Poland. Subsequently recruitment targets have been missed in all subjects except biology, English history and physical education.

With the number of secondary school pupils being predicted to rise by 15% over the next 10 years, the government desperately needs to implement measures to ensure that overseas teachers feel encouraged, supported and valued in the education sector. Whilst Damian Hinds, who served as Secretary of State of Education before resigning in July, promised a 2% rise in teacher’s pay last year, this would still not be enough to ensure migrant teachers can apply for ILR and settle in the UK permanently.

Consequences of Austerity

Austerity measures have certainly been a catalyst to huge cuts in teacher’s wages which in turn, has led to severe staff shortages and a significant negative impact on the level of teaching standards up and down the country. Yet, British children in the classroom also continue to feel the full force of harsh economic policies. According to research sponsored by Kellogg’s, 1 in 7 children are going to school hungry whilst the All-Party Parliamentary Inquiry found that up to 38% of poor children in parts of Britain are not receiving free school meals despite being entitled to them.

Parents and carers also struggle to afford the prices for uniform, equipment and school trips, according to Child Poverty Action Group, British Youth Council, Kids Company and the National Union of Teachers (NUT). Low socio-economic backgrounds majorly contribute to a child’s educational success: in fact, the gap between children from low-income and high-income households in Scotland equates to a 10-13 month difference in learning development by age 5. In order to compensate for the economic inequalities faced by children outside of education, the recruitment of more teachers would allow a greater level of support and guidance within the classroom – a move only facilitated by increased funding and decreased visa expenses.

Additionally, families and school leaders are becoming increasingly concerned over the future that the end of free movement will have on the hundreds of thousands of EU children studying in British schools. 14-year old student Sara, who moved from Slovakia to Surrey when she was a toddler, stated her shock in hearing how many of her classmates supported the leave campaign, adding that ‘it’s awkward, frustrating and painful to hear what they think of your ‘kind’.’

Saving the UK education sector from a severely struggling workforce rests in the ability for overseas teaching professionals to travel and work in the UK with financial and practical ease. The restrictions for Indefinite Leave to Remain desperately need to be relaxed: punishing dedicated teachers with steep expenses and unrealistic salary requirements is an unjust and illogical approach in filling vital educational roles. With an increase in overseas teaching professionals comes a flourishing and supported educational environment for both staff and students.

This article has been provided by Maddie Grounds who is a specialist content writer and correspondent for the Immigration Advice Service which is an organisation of immigration solicitors based in the UK

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