In the summertime

  • 5th April 2024

Jonathan Hill explains the key considerations when hiring EU summer school staff


With demand for summer experiences for local and overseas students back on the rise post-Covid, so too is the need of schools to explore options for the recruitment of overseas teaching staff.

Post-Brexit, when it comes to sponsorship of European employees, advanced planning is key as there are a number of considerations that should be taken into account to ensure a successful and timely recruitment process. Some common obstacles that can arise include issues surrounding a school’s ability to sponsor overseas nationals, considerations of employment start dates, time taken for Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) checks, potential disruptions to travel itineraries and entry clearance issues. Without advance planning taking into account such considerations, recruiting schools face the risk of delays that could jeopardise entire summer programmes. Additionally, recruiters must understand the key visa provisions of the skilled worker visa route that is most commonly used for overseas teaching staff.

 Visa requirement

Any EU-based prospective employee will require a visa to work in the UK. With the short nature of summer school programmes, many schools assume the availability of short-term visa options for teaching staff. However, short-term visas for the UK generally don’t attract work rights. It is therefore vital that, before commencing with any visa process, schools and their potential employees consider permissions under various routes to determine the most suitable visa based on the work proposed.

 The skilled worker route

To work in the UK, non-UK nationals must obtain an immigration status that permits the actual work proposed, with the most common, and quite complex, route being the skilled worker visa.

Just as a school is required to hold a child student and/or student sponsor licence to enrol students, schools must hold a skilled worker sponsor licence to sponsor an overseas employee. A skilled worker licence can be either added as a ‘limb’ to an existing sponsor licence, or setup as a stand-alone licence. Before applying, a school should check to ensure the worker doesn’t already hold a skilled worker sponsor licence using the Register of licensed sponsors workers.

If a school needs a skilled worker sponsor licence, it should assess the full costs involved to determine whether use of the skilled worker route is cost-effective. It’s important to note that sponsoring a skilled worker involves costs for both the school and the prospective employee, along with a number of compliance regulations which the school must meet as part of the process. At the time of writing, the skilled worker visa application fee (cost to the prospective employee) ranges from £719 to £1,500, and the Immigration Health Surcharge (mandatory for a visa totalling over six months in duration) is now £1,035 per visa year.

In addition to the costs, schools should also take into account the current sponsor licence application processing time of four months.

Once a school has secured a skilled worker sponsor licence, they must then request the number of Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS) they require for the next 12-month period.

A CoS number allocated by a sponsor is required by the employee to make a valid skilled worker visa application and must be allocated before any such application is made. A CoS can be assigned to the proposed employee up to three months in advance of his or her employment start date.

Right to work checks

All employers must check to ensure all proposed workers have the right to work (RTW) in the UK. Not every immigration status provides sufficient work rights and therefore it’s important for the school’s HR department to be aware of this and ensure it follows the correct RTW process. Putting aside reputational damage, scrutiny by way of audits, and the risk of losing a sponsor licence, employers also face heavy penalties of up to £45,000 per illegal worker for failing to carry out required checks.

Sponsorship process: timing, eligibility and cost

Even with a sponsor licence, schools must check whether the role they want to recruit for meets the skilled worker criteria and the minimum salary thresholds.

Minimum salary thresholds are a key factor in skilled worker sponsorship and add to the cost of hiring teaching staff from overseas. The teaching role must be paid at either the skilled worker minimum salary threshold of £20,480 per annum (due to rise to £38,700 from April subject to exemptions) or the relevant minimum rate for teachers in England, whichever is higher. It is recommended that where a school is unsure expert advice is sought to assist with salary calculations, especially given the recent and forthcoming changes in relation to minimum salary levels for skilled workers.

Visa process

Once a school is satisfied that the role on offer meets minimum sponsorship requirements, and a CoS has been issued, there are then a number of additional steps required as part of the visa process. Although the process is relatively streamlined for European nationals in particular, the school may be required to provide supporting documentation to the prospective employee.

 European nationals with a chipped passport are able to make use of the UK Immigration – ID Check mobile application which allows for a fully remote submission in the employee’s own time, with no requirement to visit a local application centre. Upon submission of the visa application, the employee will need to provide supporting documentation which may include proof of the employee’s English language ability and a criminal record certificate.

English language proficiency can be demonstrated in a variety of ways which includes, being a national of a majority English speaking country, having a degree-level academic qualification that was taught in English, or through a Secure English Language Test (SELT) from an approved provider. It is important to note that if the employee studied abroad he or she will need to apply for confirmation that the qualification is equivalent to a UK bachelor’s degree, master’s degree or PhD using ECCTIS (formally UK NARIC).

Criminal record certificates are required in support of a skilled worker application for those working in education. If the employee is under 28 years old, he or she will need to provide a certificate from any country they’ve lived in for a total of 12 months or longer since turning 18. If the employee is 28 years old or older, he or she will need to provide a certificate from any country they’ve lived in over the past 10 years. Obtaining the required certificate(s) can take some time, especially if an employee has resided in multiple locations. Criminal record certificates must be secured no more than six months before the filing of the visa application.

Disclosure and Barring Service check

Finally, upon securing the skilled worker visa and before commencing work in the UK, the foreign employee must pass a DBS check. As there are often delays due to lengthy processing times, particularly during the summer, the DBS check can be requested prior to the individual’s arrival in the UK but must take place after the employee’s visa validity.

Due to the multiple steps, lengthy processing times and the number of required supporting documents, schools looking to recruit overseas summer teaching staff should begin planning as early as possible.


Jonathan Hill is a senior manager at immigration law firm Fragomen.

Jonathan Hill

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