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Finding English teachers in Italy now ‘virtually impossible’ after Brexit

Italy had long benefitted from a regular flow of English native speakers from the UK, but language schools are now struggling to recruit British teachers due to the effects of Brexit and Covid travel restrictions.

A classroom of students with the teacher in front of a whiteboard.
Brexit has led to a shortage in English teachers in Italy. Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

Since Britain left the EU at the end of 2020, freedom of movement came to an end for British citizens and in its place came the requirement to obtain a visa or permit to live and work in Italy. 

For the hundreds of language schools up and down the country, it’s created a recruitment challenge due to the complicated and protracted paperwork that now applies.

The requirement to work in Italy for British nationals is the same as for Americans and Australians, for example – they’re all on the same list of ‘third countries’, which don’t belong to the EU or the EEA.

READ ALSO: What Brits need to know about visas for Italy after Brexit

And this removal of easy access to a huge pool of native English speakers from within Europe has impacted Italy’s language schools, who are now struggling to attract new teaching staff.

Brexit has had a major effect on our recruitment policy,” said Laura Shearer the Director of Inside English, a language school in the southern region of Puglia.

“It is virtually impossible at the moment to employ teachers from the UK if they do not have double citizenship and therefore an EU passport,” she added.

Looking at job adverts for English teachers in Italy, out of the dozens reviewed, they all state that an EU passport is either essential or preferred – many schools ask for candidates to have the right to live and work in Italy.

A classroom of students listen to a teacher.
Brexit has led to staffing gaps in Italian language schools. Photo by Taylor Wilcox on Unsplash

Luckily for these language schools, Irish candidates are combatting the shortfall, as Ireland is a part of the EU and forms another source of native English speakers nearby.

But they can’t completely make up for the Brexit-induced lack of teaching staff.

“UK teachers made up a huge proportion of the teachers in Italy, as that was the benefit of freedom of movement. They didn’t need a visa, meaning that people could come and go very easily,” Shearer told us.

The employment market used to be very quick, she said, but language schools now find themselves stuck in a complicated process that has effectively locked out UK jobseekers.

So can language schools help with obtaining those rights for British citizens?

We would be more than willing to assist applicants with paperwork, but the long timeframes that come into play with Italian bureaucracy mean that applicants look elsewhere for work, or unless they have a specific reason to come to Italy are highly unlikely to wait,” Shearer told us.


Work visas are blocking recruitment

To get a work visa in Italy, you need a work permit called a ‘Nulla Osta’, which your Italian employer has to apply for at their local Immigration Office (Sportello Unico d’Immigrazione – SUI).

After 15 years of running the language school, Shearer told us that it can take up to two years for one to be granted, if at all.

How many EFL teachers are willing to wait two years for a job teaching English in Italy?” she asked.

What was once an opportunity for Brits to travel and live in Italy, even for just a year, is now not so simple and is having stark repercussions on these businesses that benefited from the previous ease of movement.

Even though it’s not impossible to eventually get the documentation required to move to Italy for work, the waiting time and effort of jumping through bureaucratic hoops could put off a lot of candidates.


Brexit’s effect on flexible teachers

Jessica Wynne-Susella is the HR manager for Labsitters, an English language school for children with offices in Florence and Milan.

For their business, Brexit has been “an absolute disaster and still is”, she told us, adding that “it’s a terrible, terrible shame”.

Their schools rely on part-time workers, something that wasn’t a problem before Britain left the EU. Many of their teachers are at university or wanted to spend a year in Italy, to learn the language and live another culture.

Since Brexit, their flexible British teachers have been cut off, creating huge problems for the company.

“A lot of clients not only want native English speakers, they specifically ask for British rather than American teachers and I can’t give them that now,” Wynne-Susella told us.

As it’s a flexible arrangement, they can’t afford the investment of sponsoring people to get a work visa, as their positions aren’t full time.

Shearer also noted the same problem – you have to apply for that particular person to get a work permit and show why they should be hired over an EU citizen.

“It’s not straightforward – we would love to employ them, but we can’t,” she said.

READ ALSO: The five most essential pieces of paperwork you’ll need when moving to Italy

A teacher leading a class of children.
Recruiting British teachers in Italy is now much more complex. Photo by LIONEL BONAVENTURE / AFP

The Decreto Flussi (Flow Decree) is another problem for recruiting British teachers – it opens up for a short window each year and places an annual quota on how many people can enter the country from outside the EEA to work.

It means that competition for UK teachers entering Italy has just got even tougher, something that Shearer hopes will change in the future as the current situation is “worrying” for her language school.

The combined impact of Covid and Brexit

Covid restrictions had already put a strain on the firm, as she noted the number of people attending courses went down and parents are hesitant about potential further online learning.

“We tried to continue as best as we could through Covid, which impacted recruitment and our business. I spent all summer recruiting instead of the one month it usually takes,” she said.

“Now, the system to hire staff as a result of Brexit might ruin us,” Shearer added.

READ ALSO: How ‘smart working’ has changed Italy’s work culture

For Labsitters on the other hand, the move to an online platform has saved the business, as they now connect to children all around the country and can draw on a wider pool of teachers – including British teachers who were already in Italy pre-Brexit.

“We have grown our business online through the pandemic and it was good for us. This side really took off and we’re so grateful – now we’re continuing to find new ways to engage children at a distance,” she told us.

Alternative teaching solutions to the staffing gap

Since British native speakers are now lacking, where are these language schools getting their teachers from?

This year, Shearer has turned to non-native English teachers with an EU passport, to cut through the red tape and waiting times.

The union jack flies against a blue sky.
Leaving the EU has created more red tape for English teachers planning on working in Italy. Photo by Aleks Marinkovic on Unsplash

The language school currently employs three Irish teachers, one from the UK who was already living in Italy before Brexit and another teacher from the UK with an EU passport as they have a Portuguese parent.

They must be of C2 English level, which although not native, is a proficient, exceptional level of language skills, marking the sixth and final stage of English in the Common European Framework of Reference (CEFR).

A lack of mother tongue speakers could spell real problems for Shearer’s business, as she noted clients and parents constantly ask for native speakers as their number one priority.

But she said she’s in a corner and just can’t move forward with applicants who don’t have the right to work in the EU as it’s too complex.

Out of a recent job posting, she received 100 applications but could only take 3 to interview stage as they weren’t eligible, even if they had the desired experience and qualifications.

Both schools said they’re either recruiting teachers from Ireland who have an EU passport, American students or those who have the post-Brexit residency card, the ‘carta di soggiorno‘ that proves the post-Brexit rights of UK nationals.

READ ALSO: How many of Italy’s British residents have successfully applied for a post-Brexit residency card?

This biometric ID card shows your residency status and is available to British citizens who were lawfully living in Italy before January 1st 2021.

So it won’t necessarily attract new talent, unless the British nationals already in Italy fancy changing jobs.

Wynne-Susella has noted similar problems too, saying “everyone is trying to think of different ways to get in to Italy now”, adding, “the rules are still not clear post-Brexit”.

Even though she receives applications from exceptional English speakers, clients don’t want someone who is Dutch teaching their children, for instance.

“The key to our business is having mother tongue speakers, as parents want the full immersion with exposure to the accent and pronunciation,” she said.

“It has been an incredibly challenging year as far as recruitment is concerned,” Shearer stated.

She said, “I’ve never had this experience and I don’t see it getting any easier in the future.”

Member comments

  1. Teachers of English like myself may have noted that both the spelling ‘benefitted’ and ‘benefited’ appear in this article. Like many others, the writer of the piece seems uncertain how to spell this word. If in this case the normal spelling rule is followed, it should be ‘benefited’ .According to this rule, a verb ending consonant + vowel + consonant that has more than one syllable only doubles the final consonant in front of the -ed of the past simple tense if the final syllable is stressed. so from ‘answer’ (stress on first syllable) we have ‘answered’ but from ‘prefer’ we have ‘preferred’ and from ‘benefit’, ‘benefitted’. An exception is verbs ending ‘l’ like travel (travelled) and cancel (cancelled). The Americans would seem to be more logical than the British in this case as they use the spellings ‘traveled’ and ‘canceled’.

  2. Oops! In my above comment, it should read ‘… from benefit, benefited’. Serves me right for being pedantic!

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‘No Meloni’: Why students across Italy are protesting on Friday

Some disruption was expected in central Rome, Milan and other Italian cities on Friday amid student protests against the new government's policies on education.

'No Meloni': Why students across Italy are protesting on Friday

Thousands of Italian students were reportedly taking to the streets on Friday to demand more investment in the country’s schools and universities – something they say is not a priority for the new hard-right government led by Giorgia Meloni.

Italian student unions Unione degli Studenti and Rete degli Studenti organised the day of coordinated demonstrations, which they dubbed ‘No Meloni Day’ in protest at the new prime minister’s stance on education.

Protestors said they were against her government’s focus on “meritocracy” after the education ministry was renamed the ‘Ministry for Education and Merit’.

Critics of the ministry’s new name say it promotes the idea that academic achievement is based solely on effort, and ignores structural injustices that prevent low-income students from progressing in school.

Alice Beccari, Unione degli Studenti communications manager, told Italian media that the group was however not protesting “exclusively” against the current government’s ideology.

“As in past years, we protest against reforms aimed at the privatisation and industrialisation of schools,” she said.

The main protest in Rome was expected to cause some disruption to bus services, as students march from Circo Massimo to the offices of Italy’s education ministry in the Trastevere district.