Canadian teacher left in visa limbo as class taught by temporary staff

Teacher Heather Cattanach with her husband Gary McIver. Picture: contributed
Teacher Heather Cattanach with her husband Gary McIver. Picture: contributed
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A Canadian teacher brought to Britain to plug staff shortages in schools has been unable to work for nine months as Home Office officials consider her visa application to remain in Scotland – while her class is taught by temporary teachers.

Heather Cattanach, 33, who married her Scottish husband, Gary McIver, in July, was forced to leave her Primary Two class at a rural school in Aberdeenshire in the middle of the day in January after she discovered that her visa was no longer valid due to a legal holdup caused by her lawyer submitting her application too late.

The class has since been without a full-time class teacher, while Ms Cattanach – who is barred from working while her application is processed – waits at home. The Home Office has told her it could take up to another six months.

“I was phoned and told at lunchtime that I could no longer work and I had to leave my job right there and then,” she said. “I was devastated. I still think about what that has done to those children. I’m a teacher and Scotland is short of teachers. I am crucial to supporting Scotland and that is why I believe my case is different.”

Ms Cattanach arrived in the UK in 2015 after being recruited through the TimePlan scheme at a jobs fair at her university in British Colombia, Canada. She started working at a school in Southampton, but began an application process with the General Teaching Council of Scotland to be allowed to work north of the Border and transferred to Applegrove Primary School in Forres in January 2016.

An application for “leave to remain” – initially conducted through a Human Rights visa application and now through a spousal visa – has been with Home Office officials for more than nine months and the couple has no idea when she will be allowed to work again.

The pair, who moved in together within three months after meeting online in Inverness, do not want to move to Canada together to allow them to be close to Gary’s two children, Hannah, 12 and Ruaridh, five, who live in Scotland.

Ms Cattanach said the wait had put a strain on her relationship with Mr McIver, 34, a mechanical engineer. The couple had moved to Forres from Inverness to be close to Ms Cattanach’s job.

“My mother always told me that if I marry Gary, I would not be able to come back to Canada as I could not take him away from his children,” she said. “That is why we need to be here. It has been difficult financially and it has just been very emotional.”

Laurence Findlay, head of education at Moray Council, has written to the Home Office to ask for her to be returned to her teaching post.

He wrote: “I am concerned at the length of time this appears to be taking.”He added: “The school...has significant long term vacancies which we are struggling to cover on a day-to-day basis and her ongoing absence is presenting a significant risk in terms of service continuity.”

Ms Cattanach said her passport has been seized by the Home Office and she has been told that if she takes it back to visit family in Canada, her visa application will be scrapped.

A spokeswoman for the Home Office said that Ms Cattanach did not apply to extend her stay in the UK until after her last visa expired. It is understood that some missing information also delayed the process.