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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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For members


Frustration grows as UK driving licence holders in Italy wait in limbo

British nationals living in Italy are becoming increasingly concerned by the lack of news about a reciprocal driving licence agreement post-Brexit, and say the current 'catch-22' situation is adversely affecting their lives.

Frustration grows as UK driving licence holders in Italy wait in limbo

There is growing discontent among UK licence holders residing in Italy who are currently playing a waiting game on the validity of their driving licences.

Those who are driving in Italy on a UK-issued permit currently have just over six months left before their licence is no longer accepted on Italy’s roads.

READ ALSO: Driving licences: How does situation for Brits in Italy compare to rest of Europe?

That is, unless a deal is reached between the UK and Italy, or another extension period is granted.

Another extension would mark the third time the authorities have deferred making an agreement on UK driving licences in Italy.

When Britain left the EU at the end of 2020, British and Italian authorities hadn’t reached a reciprocal deal on driving licences.

However, UK licence holders living in Italy were granted a 12-month grace period in which they could continue to drive on their British licences in Italy.

With just days to go before the deadline in December 2021, those still using a UK licence were granted a reprieve when it was further extended for another 12 months until the end of 2022.

But the situation from January 1st, 2023, remains unknown.

In the remaining few months, British nationals driving in Italy who hadn’t converted their licence to an Italian one before January 1st, 2021 face the same choice again: wait and hope for an agreement or start the lengthy and costly process of taking their Italian driving test.

There is still no confirmation on reaching an agreement on driving licences. Photo by Miguel MEDINA / AFP

Many UK nationals have contacted The Local recently to express their frustration, anger and concern over the situation, explaining how the possibility of not being to drive in Italy would profoundly impact their lives.

For some, it would mean not being able to get to work, losing their independence, not being to reach supermarkets for the food shop in remote areas, or not being able to take their children to school.

And in the meantime, many readers told us it means ongoing worry and uncertainty.

Reader David (not his real name), who moved to the southern region of Puglia shortly before Brexit hit, tells us he now finds himself in a “horrible catch-22 situation”.

He summed up the feeling among many of those who contacted The Local by saying: “It is highly concerning and not at all helpful for mental or physical health in a period when we are trying to settle in to a new life in Italy.”

He points out that, for him, retaking his driving test and getting an Italian licence would also mean having to sell his car and buy one with a less powerful engine.

“I realise that if I pass the Italian driving test and obtain an Italian licence, then I will be a neopatente (new driver) with three years of serious restrictions,” he says.

READ ALSO: What you need to know about getting an Italian driving licence post-Brexit

Newly administered licences in Italy carry restrictions including on the maximum engine size of the car the holder may drive, tighter speed limits on the motorway and extra penalty points for breaking them.

“In this situation, I am honestly dis-incentivised to get the Italian licence unless there seriously is a real ‘no deal’ scenario on the table,” he says.

“Because if I get an Italian licence now – and of course I could choose now to invest a lot of time and money to get it – and then an agreement is reached to exchange licenses, then I might find myself in a worse position than if I just waited to do an exchange.”

“I am sincerely hoping for an agreement to be reached for experienced drivers with a UK licence.”

James Appleton lives in Milan and says he feels “frustrated about the situation”. Although he concedes that he lives in the city with all the convenience that implies, he is worried about having a car sitting outside his flat that he can no longer drive from January.

“The frustration now is with little over six months left of the year, advice from the authorities has continued to be quite unhelpful,” he tells us.

“We keep hearing, ‘consider your options’. I know my options: I have to start the process of taking a test, which is expensive and lengthy, and which may turn out to be unnecessary, or wait until the end of the year. Those have been my options for year and a half,” he adds.

Frustration for many British nationals still waiting on a post-Brexit driving licence agreement. Photo by ANDREAS SOLARO / AFP

“I feel very much in limbo. If it gets to November and we still haven’t heard anything, I risk having a car that I can’t drive from January as my licence may no longer be valid.

My hope would be if there’s not to be a deal, let us know so there’s time to take the test,” James says. “I don’t want to find out with a week to go, like last year.”

He points to the fact that many other non-EU countries have reciprocal driving licence agreements with Italy, so why not the UK? Meanwhile, Italy is one of only two countries in the EU still not to have made a deal on driving licences.

While he said he didn’t want to sound “entitled”, the lack of clarity was simply confusing.

READ ALSO: Q&A: Your questions answered about driving in Italy on a British licence

Like many others, he tried but didn’t manage to convert his British licence in time as he moved to Italy shortly before the Brexit deadline.

James registered as a resident in December 2020, leaving little time to begin the conversion process. He admitted it was partly his fault “for not having realised the consequences of what was going to happen”.

But “there are some people in a position where it wasn’t so straightforward to convert your licence,” he notes.

This was true for another reader, who wished to remain anonymous. She tells us that she tried to begin the conversion of her UK driving licence three times in Imperia, where she lives, but was told to “wait and see what is decided”.

“No one has taken a note of my requests and attempts so I cannot prove my attempts to get this sorted or listed,” she says.

READ ALSO: How to import your car or motorbike to Italy

In her case, it would therefore be difficult to prove that she began the conversion process before January 1st, 2021.

She also faced setbacks when trying to convert her licence in time after applying for residency before Brexit.

On being told that she needed her final ID card (carta d’identità) proving her residence, she returned to her town hall but couldn’t get the card for another seven months due to no appointments being available.

“Then I couldn’t get the licence exchanged as the person dealing with this was not at work on the day I went. I had to fly back to UK then Covid restrictions kicked in, hampering travel and by then UK was out of Europe and the Italian/UK driver’s licence issues remained unsolved,” she added.

The question on a UK-Italy driving licence agreement rolls on. Photo by FABIO MUZZI / AFP

So is there any hope that an agreement will be reached and those driving on a UK licence won’t need to sit an Italian driving test?

At this point there are no indications as to whether a decision will be reached either way. The British government continues to advise licence holders to sit their Italian driving test, while also stating that they’re working on reaching a deal.

The latest update to the driving guidance on the British government’s ‘Living in Italy’ webpage in January states:

“If you were resident in Italy before 1 January 2022 you can use your valid UK licence until 31 December 2022,” however, “you must exchange your licence for an Italian one by 31 December 2022. You will need to take a driving test (in Italian).”

The guidance then states: “The British and Italian governments continue to negotiate long-term arrangements for exchanging driving licences without needing to take a test.”

So far, so much conflicting advice, as many readers point out.

Of those who have decided to take the plunge and sit the Italian driving test, some say it’s “not as difficult as it sounds” while others report having trouble with the highly technical questions in the theory test, not to mention the fact that the test has to be taken in Italian.

If you speak French or German better than Italian, the test may be available in those languages – but not in English.

READ ALSO: Getting your Italian driving licence: the language you need to pass your test

“My question is why can’t you take your driving test in English? Adding it as an option for taking the test would help,” says Njideka Nwachukwu, who moved to Italy in 2019. She failed the theory test and has to try again, at a further cost.

Even if you find taking the test a breeze, the process is known to take around six months – if you pass everything first time – and to set you back hundreds of euros.

At the time of writing, neither Italian nor British government officials have given any indication as to if or when a deal may be reached, or an explanation of why the two countries have not yet been able to reach an agreement.

Nor has any explanation been given as to why this important aspect of life in Italy was never protected under the Withdrawal Agreement in the first place.

When contacted by The Local recently for an update on the situation, the British Embassy in Rome stated: “rest assured the Embassy continues to prioritise the issue of UK driving licence validity in Italy and we continue to engage with the Italian government on this issue.”

The Local will continue to ask for updates regarding the use of British driving licences in Italy.

Thank you to everyone who contacted The Local to tell us how they are affected by this issue, including those we couldn’t feature in this article.

Find more information on the UK government website’s Living in Italy section.

See The Local’s latest Brexit-related news updates for UK nationals in Italy here.