E-mails from Emily

As regular readers of my blog will already know, I also write (under my nom de plume, "the hippo") a few bits and pieces for The Times Educational Supplement. This means that sometimes one or two TES readers write to me for advice. Emily was rather worried about her work visa for her new school in the UK.


Hello,

I was hoping you could advise me about what to expect or request in an unexpected situation.  I am freaking out over this, and am in an Eastern European country where I taught for the past 5 years: my colleagues all went home for the summer, and I stayed in a school apartment I have to leave at the end of July.  I thought I had a job lined up, but it looks like I don't.  I don't know who to talk to about this, and I'm sick with worry.  

This is complicated, so I'll number the events to make it easier to follow.

1.  I went to the Search fair in January.  I was thrilled to get an offer from a school in the UK.  It is an American international school, and I was so happy to learn that they do offer housing, and a livable salary, which I had always been told was impossible in the UK. 

2.  I signed the letter of intent.

3.  I flew back to Eastern Europe.  Over the next month, the new school requested various documents for the police checks and D and B checks.  I signed housing contracts with them.  I got my schedule for the next year.

4.  In late April, I called the woman who was communicating with me about my Disclosure and Barring materials.  I asked her when I would apply for a visa, and how to do this.  She directed me to email the director's personal assistant, who "takes care of our visas."

5.  I emailed the director's personal assistant.  She responded that we needed to speak via phone.  When we did, she told me about the UK Tier 2 visa debacle, which I'm sure you know about (the TES #LetThemTeach campaign covers it nicely).  I did not know about this.  I confess I was not reading UK news sources very carefully; I did glance at head stories on the Guardian, but I wasn't reading it thoroughly, and I wasn't watching British news (I'm in Eastern Europe, and don't have a television, in any case).  I guess I thought my new job was secure because I hadn't been told otherwise.  And my Search Associate had sent out many publications indicating that a letter of intent was a "bond", and meant a commitment on both sides.  I thought I had a sure job.  

6.  It emerged that the director's personal assistant had confused me with another teacher at a lower salary.  When she realized that I had been offered housing and a higher salary, she said that they could indicate the monetary amount of the housing in the request for restricted certificate of sponsorship, and that they were now "reasonably confident" they could get me the visa because of the higher salary.

7.  I asked several times via email what would happen if the certificate of sponsorship request was refused.  I didn't get a direct answer.  I phoned the director's pa, and she said that if it was refused in June, they'd reapply the next month.  

9.  I didn't want to be a pest.  My current admin, who were interested in this process, told me to calm down because of course my new school would not "cut you loose" if the rcos request was refused.  My current admin told stories of how he had arranged to support teachers in late visa situations, and how he simply arranged for a later start date for them.  He did say it was weird that the new director hadn't tried to communicate with me to "offer reassurance."

10.  The request for sponsorship was refused in June.

11.  NHS doctors were taken out of the quota.  The director's pa told me that she was very sure this meant the required salary for the rcos/visa cap would go down and I would get it in July.  She emphasized that my accommodation package was worth 19k, bumping me to a very good salary/point bracket for the visa.

12.  I asked again what would happen if it was refused in July.  She said, "Well, we can try for August if you're OK with that."  I told her that I was "OK" with it, that I had no other job lined up, and was very nervous now, and what would happen if it was refused again in August?  She told me that if it is refused in August, that is it.  They won't try again.  And I will be on my own.  (why didn't they tell me this months ago?!).

13. I found a UK immigration advisor online and paid for a Skype consultation.  The immigration consultant told me that, in fact, the accommodation/allowance portion of my package doesn't count for ANY points at all toward the rcos application.  The accommodation/allowance DOES count in the actual visa application, which is a separate point system; I can't apply for this until I get a restricted certificate of sponsorship, and for that, only my salary "counts" for points.  So I have 20 fewer points than the director's pa, who is processing my certificate of sponsorship request, believes.  

14.  So for all these months, the director's pa has been confusing the point systems for the rcos process and the visa point system.  (yes, there were other indications that she wasn't extremely sure about the process.  For example, I don't want to say she lied, but early in the process, she said "we have an immigration lawyer", and then a few weeks later, she told me "we're thinking of getting an immigration lawyer."  I do think she does all of this herself.  

15.  I emailed her on Friday with this new information about the true status of my points.  She was out for the day.  I will phone her on Monday morning.

16.  I'm in a situation now where I am expecting the visa sponsorship certificate to be refused in July and August.  And I have no job, and nowhere to go.  I don't even know where I'll go when my current lease expires at the end of July.  

17.  I'm terrified of being out of work for the next year.  It will be hugely expensive.  I'll have to go to the Search fair again.  

But also, I'm a little angry that apparently the visa refusals began in December 2017, and continued every month after this.  Yes, I would have known this if I had begun to follow British news more than a cursory glance at the top stories on the Guardian each week.  But shouldn't my new school have alerted me earlier?  While there was still time to get another job?

Is it strange that the school's director has never reached out to me at all in these months?  

I would still love to have this job.  But now that I've spoken to an immigration expert, I am not at all sure I'll get it.  What does the school "owe" me, if anything?  I am asking because I am trying to figure out what to ask/how to respond if/when the sponsorship request is refused in July and August.

I have written so much here!  Sorry for the rambling.  I would be very, very grateful for your perspective....

Thank you so much,

Emily

Dear Emily,
I am writing to you because I want to help you as much as I possibly can. However, I am going to be honest because that is the best way to help you. That might also mean that I am going to write a few things that you will not want to read, but there is not much I can do about that.

No, I do not know anything about American schools. I have never worked in one. Yes, I have had American colleagues and the school where I was teaching in Saudi was supposed to more or less follow an American curriculum, but I am definitely not an expert on American schools. They invariably prefer to employ American teachers and they usually want American accreditation. Yes, they do tend to pay more than British schools, but your chances of getting a job at an American school if you are not American are slim. (On the other hand, maybe you are an American. Well, why on earth do you want to go and teach in the UK, where there will be rather a lot of boring, stuffed-shirted Brits? And everyone knows that Brits cannot make proper coffee.)

An American school in the UK? Well, yes, there are a few. Not many. As you have written about getting a visa for the UK, I am assuming, of course, that you are not a Brit. Well, if the visa does not come through, then yes, there is no job for you, no matter how much the school wants to employ you. I would therefore cut my losses asap and start thinking about getting another job instead.

Yes, of course it is disappointing when you do not get your “dream job”, but it is not your fault. (This has happened to me several times. You think that it is all lined up and then it falls through.)

This American school in the UK seems to have misled you and messed things up, so do not feel that you owe them anything. Yes, of course SEARCH will always say that you should keep your word. In many ways, I would agree with this. But the harsh reality is that no visa means no job, whatever SEARCH may say about it. If this American school in the UK really wanted you so much, then why did they not fight your corner re. getting a visa? No visa means no job and you cannot wait around to have your visa rejected again (and again). 

The school’s HR people are supposed to know the qualifications / experience / accreditation that are needed in order to obtain a visa. If they don’t, then they are a bunch of clowns and that is a very good reason for not working at this school! 

Yes, you did sign a "letter of intent", but this was based on the understanding that the school was going to help you to get a visa. Guess what? They didn't, so all bets now are off.

I have been a teacher in the UK, Kenya, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Romania, the UAE, Qatar and, for the last five years, China. Please believe me when I tell you that the world is a big place and there are millions of children in lots of different countries who need to have good teachers! If this job in the UK really has fallen through, then I think that something better is going to happen instead!

As an expat Englishman, I can tell you that there are lots of good reasons for NOT teaching in the UK (I did it for twenty years). There are international teaching jobs being advertised in the TES right now. So do not waste too much time reading this e-mail and start making some applications today! Yes, you could go to another SEARCH fair, if you really want to, but applying for international teaching jobs through the TES might be cheaper and quicker.

Last, but by no means least, I would say that every international teacher needs a bit of a safety net, a financial cushion that you can rest on for a month or two. When we had problems with our Chinese visas, my wife and I had to leave China and it was nine weeks before we were able to return. We had to pay for our own flights, plus two months rent, all out of our own pockets.

Okay, so you have to leave your present apartment in July. Well, that gives you a few weeks to fire off some applications. Then think of someone who might have an empty flat or a spare room or maybe just an empty sofa for the summer.

Sometimes something awful happens and you think, “Oh no! This is ghastly! What am I going to do?” Well, that is what has happened to me, more than once. You think someone has kicked you in the teeth, but later you will see that they were doing you a very big favour.

Dear Emily, please stay in touch. You can also read my blog, www.bulgariawithnoodles.blogspot.com, just in case you are thinking of teaching in China. And who in their right mind wants to teach American students when you could be teaching Chinese?
God bless you. These things have a way of working themselves out.

The Hippo

Dear Wise Hippo,

Thank you very much for your advice.  I really appreciate the time you took to craft such a thoughtful reply.

Luckily, I did accumulate a financial cushion, enough that I can support myself for at least a year, especially if I stay in my current city (I had been saving to buy a little house or flat somewhere, like your lovely abode in Bulgaria).  Do you think it would be a bad idea, if the UK visa doesn't work out, for me to simply plan on taking a year off?  I would do that with the intention of keeping an eye out for a sudden, unexpected vacancy at a Western European school, or maybe one of the stronger schools in UAE or Qatar?  I'm just weighing up options, and I feel heartsick at the prospect of taking another "hardship" post, or a post in a place that doesn't thrill me. The truth is, I am a bit tired of living in a place where hot water is shut off for weeks at a time, and where I walk over syringes in the park, and where the political climate of an ongoing war continues to make a tense atmosphere.  Maybe I'm just soft(er) now.  I have this idea that taking the year off to look out for vacancies might give me an advantage in landing another job in a good school/location?  Or would it look bad to be applying to schools when I am currently unemployed?

I have put in 5 years at a "hardship post" (for me) already, and I am just psychologically ready to move somewhere different.  This probably has a lot to do with planning and believing I was going to the UK job for the past 6 months.  I realize that makes me sound spoiled, but...I experienced an actual war in my current post (Ukraine).  Shortly after I began work in Kiev, their revolution began.  I actually had to evacuate my first apartment here because of the civil unrest in the city center; the main streets in the city were literally in flames those nights, and the war had longterm effects that still affect the country today (for some reason, Western media ignores the fact that parts of Ukraine are STILL active battlefields).  I stayed, and this meant I got to teach two IB courses, plus two American AP courses: I wouldn't have gotten that kind of opportunity so early in another location, and I know it made my CV stronger.  I don't want to weaken my CV if that is what planning to take a year off, if necessary, would mean, so I'd love to hear your thoughts on that.

I lived in Shanghai, as well as several other parts of China, as a child for several years because my dad's business took him there.  It was interesting, but I had problems with allergies that were, according to the doctors, due to pollution there.  I hear the pollution is still pretty bad, and I had read about your wife's problems with pollution related illness: I hope she is doing OK now?  I do agree that Chinese students are lovely, though.  I would be willing to try China if it weren't for the pollution factor.  

I am American, and the school in the UK is American as well.  They actually have a real Starbucks in one of their dining halls on campus, so that serves the needs of the US coffee addicts :)  It was a dream job for me because even though I'm American, competition for a post in a school like that is fierce.  I hadn't ever thought I could ever get a post like that.  I think the school is unsure about what to do with the recent visa debacle because, as the head's assistant told me, they've been employing Americans for over 20 years and never encountered visa refusals until this year, when they were refused sponsorship certificates for all 4 of their new hires.  I wish they had gotten an immigration lawyer's advice months ago.  I think they hoped the visa situation would right itself, and that gamble didn't pay off.  Part of the appeal of planning to take a year off would be that it would allow me to just wait to see if the UK visa happens in July or August, even though that is so unlikely.  To be honest with you, I've always been an Anglophile, and I've spent all of my holiday time each year, for the past 5 years, in the UK: it is my favorite place to visit.  I think maybe working at the American school would be different than working in the state school system there, and would allow me to experience a sort of expat-lite stint, in which I had the benefit of well-behaved students, but then could leave school and just be in England.  Your country has many great things about it.

Anyway, thank you again for taking the time to reply earlier.  If you have time, I'd be very interested to hear your thoughts on taking a year off, and if that would maybe leave me in a better situation for picking up a job mid-year somewhere ideal for me?

Your home in Bulgaria looks beautiful, and I hope you are enjoying your summer, and also that Mrs. Hippo is doing well now.

Emily

Dear Hippo,

A miracle has occurred: today I learned that my visa was approved for the July round of the Tier 2.  I don't know anything about British politics, but today Sajid Javid is my favorite person because apparently he is the one who decided to remove doctors and NHS staff from the quota for July, so this is why I was able to squeak through.  

I'm interested in just what it will be like to live on 40k per year in London, plus free housing and three meals per day provided by the school?  Yes, this is less than I made in Ukraine, and a lot less than I would be making in Boston (my hometown), but I don't care if I am poor, just as long as I am in London :)    But just how poor, exactly?  Are we talking Dickensian workhouse level, or just "normal person" level?  After 5 years in Ukraine, I'm happy to live like a regular person again.

I am so excited by the prospect of being able to go to bookstores that stock ALL the books in English I want to read, every week, and by the theater and the concerts, and the amazing class trips I'll be able to have.  I can take my students on a pilgrimage to Canterbury when they read the Canterbury Tales!  And Shakespeare!  I dislike sunny weather anyway; cloudy days make me happy.  

I really, really appreciate the time you took to reply to me: I had started sending my CV out again yesterday.  I was not expecting the visa to go through; neither was my employer.  

I hope you and Mrs. Hippo are well,

Emily

Dear Emily,

That is wonderful news! It is what you really wanted, isn't it? Well, they say, "Tired of London is tired of life." If the school is providing an apartment for you, then your main expense is covered.

I have BAD memories of eating school food, especially Chinese school food, but at least you do not have to pay for it
or cook it or do the washing up!

Therefore your main expense is likely to be transport, but you can reduce this, if you are going to be using the buses or the Tube regularly, by buying cards that let you travel much more cheaply. Or walk! By the way, proper Londoners always call it "the Tube" or "the Underground", not "the subway" or "the metro".

London theatre we are not going to agree on the spellingtickets are outrageously expensive. The good news is that the plays and shows are simply the best, anywhere in the world! And remember that there are lots of things, even in London, that are free. Yes, it will be hard to believe, especially when you first arrive in the Modern Babylon, but there really are some free things to do in London. Start doing your research now and save some money.

Yes, I do go on a lot about money, but alas life is a bit awkward if you do not have enough. You will also discover two quaint English traditions: Income Tax and National Insurance.

London is really an international city, especially as most English people cannot afford to live there. You can walk down Oxford Street and you will hear Japanese, Arabic, Russian and lots of other languages, but not English! So I hope that you will occasionally get out of London and see the rest of the UK.

Although you wrote that your salary in London will be smaller, you might still be better off, if your accommodation and food are paid for. In fact, you should be able to save some money. That is the theory... So when are you buying your house in Bulgaria?


Renewed best wishes and congratulations!







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