Overseas FE teachers exempt from new immigration earnings thresholds

Ministers claim reforms would encourage 'big business' to invest in training for domestic workers

Ministers claim reforms would encourage 'big business' to invest in training for domestic workers

FE teachers from overseas will be exempt from the government’s new minimum earnings thresholds for visas, FE Week understands.

Home secretary James Cleverly unveiled plans earlier this week to cut down on net migration by increasing the minimum salary required for foreign workers to apply for a skilled worker visa by 48 per cent to £38,700. 

Certain occupations on national pay scales, which includes teachers in schools, further and higher education, would continue to be exempt from the new higher earnings threshold and be eligible for a visa if earning at least £26,200, according to Home Office guidance. 

Under guidance published in 2021, overseas FE teachers can apply for a skilled worker visa if they can speak, read and write English; are employed by a licenced Home Office employer sponsor; and the role pays at least £20,480 or the relevant minimum rate for FE teachers in England – £20,508 for an unqualified lecturer.

Applicants can also be recruited into FE if they have the following visas: a graduate visa, a youth mobility visa, a family visa, or a skilled worker visa.

Current FE workforce data from the Department for Education does not specify the visa status of staff in FE. Yet, the gap in FE recruitment remains large and sector leaders say that more effort must be made to fund colleges and training providers if the government wants to increase reliance on domestic workers.

At the end of the 2021/22 academic year, there were 5.4 vacant teaching positions across all FE providers per 100 teaching positions. 

Ministers lined up to defend the migration reforms, claiming they would encourage businesses to invest more in training for domestic workers.

Robert Jenrick, who resigned as immigration minister days after the reforms were announced, said: “My message for big business is it is not right that they reach for the easy lever of foreign labour in the first instance – we want them to be improving and investing in British workers,” he said.

But FE leaders have flagged rigid benefits rules, low education funding rates, and low teacher pay as obstacles.

Emma Meredith, director of skills policy and global engagement at the Association of Colleges, told FE Week: “If the government is serious about filling vacancies it will need to invest more in colleges to open up opportunities for all people in the UK to train.

“That requires better funding rates so that colleges can attract and retain expert staff, more places for adults to learn flexibly whilst working, and more opportunity for people in receipt of Universal Credit to get the training they need.”

Other reforms included overseas health and social care workers not being allowed to bring in dependants, and applicants of family visas will have to declare a minimum salary of £38,700.

Simon Ashworth, director of policy at AELP, said these restrictions will make it harder for employers to attract candidates.

“The government clearly wants UK nationals to upskill but this once again highlights the need for a joined-up national skills strategy. Now, we’re left asking how can we train our own adult care workers when the funding rates are so low that it’s uneconomical for providers to deliver?

“As an absolute minimum, all apprenticeships should be funded at a rate of £5,000 per annum and the government needs to urgently look again at the exit requirements for apprenticeships. Perhaps then we might see the country able to fill its skills gaps,” he said.

Meredith agreed, and added that the migration changes could harm key sectors on the DfE’s priority list such as engineering, construction, digital and health and care.

“The skills bootcamps are part of the answer, but much more needs to be done over the long term to reverse the severe cuts to learning and training opportunities we have seen over the last decade and more. In 2003, there were 5.5 million learning opportunities in England for adults, now there are fewer than 1.5 million,” she added. 

A DfE spokesperson said: “We are investing an additional £3.8 billion over this Parliament to boost access to a range of skills offers. This includes continuing to offer a range of Skills Bootcamps, free courses at Level 3 and working with employers to create more apprenticeship opportunities so businesses have access to the skilled workers they need.”

Migration reforms include:

  • Increasing the salary threshold for a skilled worker visa to £38,700
  • Overseas teachers exempted from the salary threshold
  • Reducing the number of occupations and review the “shortage occupation list”
  • Scrapping 20 per cent salary discount for jobs on shortage occupation list
  • Health and social care workers exempt from salary threshold rise but banned from bringing dependants
  • Increasing the minimum income for family visas to £38,700, from £18,600
  • UK citizens must earn £38,700 to bring in dependants
  • Minimum income for family visas raised to £38,700 to bring dependants in

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