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150 Filipino teachers in Maryland to lose jobs, visas

Members of the Pilipino Educators Network, which is lobbying legislators to grant relief to Filipino teachers in Maryland who are facing loss of jobs and work permits. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

• Teachers hired to meet shortage to lose jobs by end of August

• Decision comes on the heels of a dispute between local school system and the U.S. Department of Labor

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• Some options still available to teachers, say immigration experts

SAN FRANCISCO, California — An estimated 150 foreign teachers, composed mostly of Filipinos, have been notified by the Maryland’s Prince George’s Country school system that it has no plans to sponsor temporary work visas or permanent residency at the end of the current school term.

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The decision, contained in letters sent to the affected teachers, means that they may have to leave when their visas expire around August.

The move comes on the heels of a dispute between the Prince George’s school system and the U.S. Department of Labor over county violations of labor laws.

In 2011, the Labor Department fine the school system $1.7 and forced it to pay $4.2 million in back wages to 1,044 foreign teachers because the teachers paid fees that they shouldn’t have.

The foreign teachers were among more than 1,000 highly qualified teachers recruited mostly from the Philippines since 2004 to meet the shortage of teachers in math, science and for students with special needs.

Community leader Bing Branigin of the National Federation of Filipino American Associations said the majority of the more than 100 Filipino teachers want to continue working in U.S. and are exhausting all means to be able to stay legally and find new work.

“Many of the teachers have brought their families with them, some have bought houses and almost all have grown roots in their respective communities,” Branigin said by phone. “So, for most of them, going back to the Philippines seems to be the last option.

There are few, Branigin said, who have decided to pack up and go home because of stressful teaching conditions in their schools.

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On the whole, Branigin said the school officials’ decision not to renew contracts or to sponsor permanent residency did not come as a complete surprise, adding that some teachers have already found future employers in other states like the Carolinas and West Virginia.

Millete Panga of the Pilipino Educators Network (PEN) said in a previous FilAm Star interview that most of the teachers who came with the early batches have become permanent residents, allowing them to freely explore options in other schools even after their contracts have expired.

Panga, who became a permanent resident in 2009, said others who came in later years were the ones who now face the prospect of not only losing their jobs but also their U.S. immigration status.

She and other teachers belonging to various groups, including the PEN, have lobbied U.S. officials to grant relief to their fellow teachers who may soon be out of work.

Filipino American lawyer Arnedo Valera of the Migrant Heritage Commission (MHC) said the Filipino teachers have a few options to enable them to stay in the U.S. legally and without losing their status.

“Their first option is to immediately start looking for other schools that would be willing to sponsor them under the H1B program, and this is something that some of the affected teachers have successfully done,” Valera said in an interview.

Valera said some Filipino teachers have found new jobs in other states like Arizona, Mississippi and even in some schools in Indian reservations

These teachers are highly qualified and most of them have masters or doctoral degrees in their respective fields, Valera noted, adding that it’s a matter of them finding new opportunities elsewhere.

Valera also said the adversely affected teacher could also request for deferred immigration action, especially for those who may have been impacted by the recent super typhoon Haiyan that devastated the Central Philippines.

He added the US Citizenship and Immigration Services issued last Nov. 23 immigration relief measures intended to help Filipino nationals in the United States who have been severely affected by the storm that killed more than 6,200 and displaced more than four million and hampered the lives of 16 million other people.

In extreme cases, Valera said those who may have been victimized by unscrupulous manpower recruiters, like being charged exorbitant fees in exchange for their jobs, may try to apply for T-visas under America’s labor trafficking laws.

Valera, one of the executive directors of the Arlington, Virginia-based MHC, observed that the U.S. Labor Department in 2011 ordered the Prince George’s County public school system to pay the teachers $4.2 million in back wages for having been required to pay for their own visa fees in violation of laws governing the H1B program.

“We have learned that in some cases the teachers were made to borrow money at usurious interest rates from loan companies affiliated with their Philippine recruiters to be able to pay unauthorized recruitment fees,” Valera said.

Consul Elmer Cato, spokesman of the Philippine embassy in Washington DC, said they have reached out to the teachers, assuring them embassy’s readiness to help the distressed in whatever ways possible.

Cato said that the closely-knit Filipino American community has been extending moral and other support, finding schools in and out-of-state that would be willing to hire teachers facing dislocation.

As first reported by the Washington Post, school officials made it clear they had no plan to sponsor any teachers at least before the end of summer, and that they will only do so if it’s absolutely necessary.

Max Pugh, a schools spokesman, told the Post that to fill next year’s staffing needs, officials will “move forward cautiously to ensure that all selection and hiring requirements and regulations established by the Department of Labor and United States Citizenship and Immigration Service are met.”

“The Division of Human Resources will advertise, recruit and fully exhaust all domestic applicant pools to demonstrate a true staffing shortage before the administration will consider sponsorship for temporary work visas. . . and permanent residency,” Pugh was quoted by the Post as saying.

“Therefore, it is anticipated that no action will be taken related to sponsorship prior to August 2014.”

Prince George’s and other school districts have for years hired foreign teachers for hard-to-fill positions in math, special education and science. The county’s decision not to renew visas for those positions could mark a significant change in its hiring policy.

The federal government also barred county schools from issuing visas in 2012, letting them keep teachers who had visas but preventing them from hiring new ones or extending others’ agreements.

According to the Post, Labor Department had given the county the go-signal to hire foreign teachers and issue visas. But it appears that the school system was not going to participate in a move to avoid the problems it ran into before.

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TAGS: Employment, foreign teachers, Prince George’s County school system, Public Education, US Department of Labor, work visas
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