A prominent member of the Scottish parliament is taking up the cause of a young Nova Scotia woman and the Scottish island school that wants her to be its Gaelic teacher.
Sine Halfpenny of Antigonish, N.S., was the only applicant for a Gaelic-language teaching job at Bunessan Primary School in Isle of Mull, Scotland.
But she encountered visa issues, and couldn’t get approval to immigrate. She ultimately took a job in Manitoba that doesn’t allow her to use her Gaelic skills.
“It’s frustrating because you got kids with no teacher,” Halfpenny said in a phone interview. “The kids are going into year two and they still don’t have a teacher.”
Her story garnered the attention of British newspapers, with articles in The Telegraph and Scotland’s The Herald last fall.
Now, Michael Russell, the local member in the Scottish parliament as well as the minister for U.K. Negotiations on Scotland’s Place in Europe, has written to the new British home secretary, Sajid Javid, urging him to reconsider Halfpenny’s case.
“The local community affected by this decision have worked extremely hard to secure Gaelic education for their children and we must not let them down,” Russell said on Twitter this week.
Halfpenny said she learned Gaelic from a childhood caretaker and fell in love with the language. She studied Gaelic at St. Francis Xavier University and became a certified teacher.
The Isle of Mull opportunity intrigued her, and she obtained an additional teaching certificate qualifying her to work in Scotland.
Halfpenny said the school gave her a conditional offer, which she accepted. Her trouble began when she tried applying for a work visa.
“We kept getting denied,” she said.
First, she said the government had filled its work visa quota for the month, so her application was rejected. When her application was finally accepted, she said she failed to show that she had a sponsor.
Her sponsors, the regional councillors, couldn’t vouch that she would be making at least 30,000 pounds a year, a requirement of all visa applicants.
“It’s not fair to keep a teacher that can be there and is willing to settle down in their area away,” said Halfpenny.
Frustrated, Halfpenny moved on with her life.
“It got to the point where I couldn’t stay in Nova Scotia,” she said. “It’s not easy to sub at home and keep your head afloat.”
Halfpenny moved to northern Manitoba, where she now teaches English at Garden Hill First Nation High School.
Russell, a member of the Scottish National Party, said he is disappointed with the Home Office’s immigration policies because they are “preventing good, qualified Gaelic-speaking professionals” from teaching in Scotland.
He called for a “more progressive approach to immigration,” and asked the home secretary to reconsider Halfpenny’s case because of the school’s urgency to fill the position.
Halfpenny said all she can do now is watch from afar as Russell and the local councillors continue to lobby for her.
“They’ve been champions for me. I wish the process was easier on them so that we can just get to work. They’re good people and hopefully things will work out for the school,” she said.
Fadila Chater, The Canadian Press