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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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‘It’s their loss’: Italian universities left off UK special study visa list

The UK is missing out by barring highly skilled Italian graduates from accessing a new work visa, Italy's Universities Minister said on Wednesday.

'It's their loss': Italian universities left off UK special study visa list

Universities and Research Minister Cristina Messa said she was disappointed by the UK’s decision not to allow any graduates of Italian universities access to its ‘High Potential Individual’ work permit.

“They’re losing a big slice of good graduates, who would provide as many high skills…it’s their loss,” Messa said in an interview with news agency Ansa, adding that Italy would petition the UK government to alter its list to include Italian institutions.

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“It’s a system that Britain obviously as a sovereign state can choose to implement, but we as a government can ask (them) to revise the university rankings,” she said.

The High Potential Individual visa, which launches on May 30th, is designed to bring highly skilled workers from the world’s top universities to the UK in order to compensate for its Brexit-induced labour shortage.

Successful applicants do not require a job offer to be allowed into the country but can apply for one after arriving, meaning potential employers won’t have to pay sponsorship fees.

Students sit on the steps of Roma Tre University in Rome.

Students sit on the steps of Roma Tre University in Rome. Photo by TIZIANA FABI / AFP.

The visa is valid for two years for those with bachelor’s and master’s degrees and three years for PhD holders, with the possibility of moving into “other long-term employment routes” that will allow the individual to remain in the country long-term.

READ ALSO: Eight things you should know if you’re planning to study in Italy

Italy isn’t the only European country to have been snubbed by the list, which features a total of 37 global universities for the 2021 graduation year (the scheme is open to students who have graduated in the past five years, with a different list for each graduation year since 2016).

The Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, EPFL Switzerland, Paris Sciences et Lettres, the University of Munich, and Sweden’s Karolinska Institute are the sole European inclusions in the document, which mainly privileges US universities.

Produced by the UK’s Education Ministry, the list is reportedly based on three global rankings: Times Higher Education World University Rankings, the Quacquarelli Symonds World University Rankings, and The Academic Ranking of World Universities.

Messa said she will request that the UK consider using ‘more up-to-date indicators’, without specifying which alternative system she had in mind.