Leaping the red tape to London

July 2013


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Passports held hostage, visa hold-ups, trouble with teacher registration and police checks ... forget the horror stories of gaining entry and employment into the UK – recent law changes, helpful agencies and a good attitude will see you in a London classroom before too long. JUDE BARBACK reports.

As a New Zealander who has applied for student, working holiday, spouse, indefinite leave to remain and citizenship visas in Britain (which gives a succinct precis of my adult life), I have experienced firsthand the frustrating silence and inefficiency of the UK Border Agency.

So it was without much surprise that I read the beleaguered agency is to be disbanded and split into two separate organisations, one handling visas and immigration and the other a separate law enforcement arm.

The move came just one day after the UK Home Affairs Committee published a damning report about the Border Agency, criticising it for failing to meet its own targets for in-country immigration processing and for poor customer service. Alarmingly, the report declared that it would take approximately 24 years to clear the backlog of asylum and immigration cases. Other backlogs, including 59,000 in-country visa applications, were also brought to light.

But why is any of this relevant in a New Zealand education magazine?

The United Kingdom is a hotspot for Kiwis looking to work abroad, including New Zealand teachers. Kiwi teachers typically find work in the UK with little difficulty, due to a good reputation, hard work ethic and lack of language barrier. But despite their value, New Zealand teachers must navigate the ever-changing system and leap all that red tape in order to gain entry and secure a teaching job.

TNT, a London magazine often touted as “the bible” for Antipodean travelers living and working in London, launched the UKBA Balls-Up campaign earlier this year, after being inundated with tales of passports being held for up to a year, jobs nearly lost and people deported due to advisers giving out the wrong information to those applying to extend their visas while in the UK. The main complaint was that UKBA advisers wouldn’t give applicants any details of their case until it had been with them for more than six months.

“It is unfair travellers who are coming to live and work in London and boost the economy are being forced to put their lives on hold due to incompetency at the UK Border Agency,” says Carol Driver, group editor at TNT Multimedia.

The campaign features many ‘horror stories’: people being unable to return home for weddings and important occasions because their passport is held hostage while being processed for a visa; people being given the wrong information and being told to leave the country. It is enough to put even the most intrepid traveller off their stride.


How agencies can help

Perhaps this is one reason why teaching agencies are popular for New Zealand teachers looking to work in the UK. Claire Scott, international recruitment consultant for Protocol Education says most schools in England choose to use agencies to appoint staff, particularly for overseas trained staff. “It gives them the security that that teacher has been fully background checked,” she says.

Certainly, agencies can be very helpful in getting Kiwi teachers in, settled and employed. Scott says that registering with a teaching agency before leaving New Zealand can help ensure there will be no ‘downtime’ for work once you arrive on British soil.

Pre-departure services vary between agencies. A few agencies, like Protocol and Teach Anywhere, have staff based in New Zealand, which means contact can be made in ‘real time’ and with someone who understands the New Zealand system as well as the UK one. These agencies typically hold information evenings around the country from time to time.

Many agencies provide a comprehensive list of both pre-departure and arrival services to help teachers get established before they leave. Protocol, for example, helps Kiwi teachers with visas, eligibility to teach in the UK, accommodation, advice on teaching in British classrooms and will also help set teachers up with a UK SIM card, bank account, National Health Insurance number, registration with the UK Teachers Council and lodging an application for Qualified Teacher Status in England.

Obtaining a visa remains the biggest issue for most. Claire Scott says that although restrictions are getting tighter on visas for entry into Britain, and there are now fewer options on offer, if you are eligible for a visa the process is very straightforward and efficient from New Zealand. Most applications come back within two to four weeks, although there are some visas, such as a settlement visa, which can take up to 12 weeks.

“We offer advice, send out application links and talk teachers through the process. We provide supporting letters for certain visas. There are visa agencies that will do the process on your behalf, but it isn’t worth the money,” says Scott.

The other important issue is being eligible to teach in the UK. Things have eased somewhat in recent years for New Zealand teachers wishing to teach in the UK. From 1 April 2012, teachers who qualified in New Zealand, Australia, Canada, and the United States have been recognised as qualified teachers and awarded Qualified Teacher Status (QTS) in England without being required to undertake any further training or assessment. Previously, qualified teachers from these countries could only be employed as unqualified teachers on temporary contracts and were required to do further training to obtain QTS. Now these teachers will be on an equal footing with qualified teachers from the European Economic Area.

Teachers need to be fully registered in New Zealand; provisionally registered teachers are not awarded QTS. Claire Scott recommends teachers apply for QTS before they leave New Zealand as the Teachers Council issue a standard letter and this is posted to the UK along with the application form and a letter comes back within a couple of weeks confirming they have been awarded QTS.

However, immigration criteria and background checks remain as strict as ever.

“Child protection policies and quality standards are extremely high in the UK now,” says Scott. “There is a blanket requirement for anyone working in a school environment to hold a UK Police Check (Criminal Records Bureau Check) regardless of whether you have lived in England before. This can be a lengthy process, and hold you up for work if you don’t arrive in hand with one already processed. It’s an important step to prepare for teaching over there, and something we get done early in the registration process.”

Other UK required checks are a New Zealand police check, reference checks and verification of your qualification.


Winging it

Of course, it isn’t essential to register in New Zealand before you go, especially if you’re not completely sure what your plans are when you get there. Some may be considering a break, some may wish to travel.

Cameron Andrew, a New Zealand teacher currently teaching in London, gained entry to the UK on a two-year working holiday visa. Upon arrival, he signed up to three different agencies that suited what he was looking for: day-to-day supply teaching at secondary schools. He then went travelling for four months. During this time the teaching agencies applied for police checks and sorted out the necessary paper work required to teach in the UK. Upon his return he went straight into teaching, working on a day-to-day supply basis for two months.

“During this time I was placed in the school I am currently at and they were looking for a maths teacher. After working there for a week I was offered a job beginning in January. I didn’t have an interview at all. Instead, the head teacher came into one of my lessons and must have been happy with how I controlled and taught the class, then offered me the job.”

Andrew says his working holiday visa hasn’t been an issue at all in getting a job.

“There are so many people in London on working holiday visas that all employers are used to it. The agencies see the visas come through every day and schools have Kiwis and Aussies on contracts all the time on all sorts of different visas,” he says.

Whichever path you take for your UK teaching adventure, being informed and prepared is key to approaching the notorious and changing red tape of the UK’s immigration system.

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