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200 Filipino teachers to lose jobs in US public schools

/ 04:53 PM July 16, 2011

Ambassador Jose L. Cuisia, Jr. (third from left) with members of the Philippine Educators Network.

WASHINGTON—At least 200 Filipino teachers of the Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGCPS) are in grave danger of losing their jobs following the decision of the US Department of Labor to bar it from hiring Filipino and other foreign teachers for two years.

The seemingly unintended damage to teachers, who were hired under the H1-B program, will start to be felt by some teachers whose contracts are expiring this month.

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“Unless we are able to find legal relief, the affected teachers have no choice but to return to the Philippines or to look for other sponsors, which is not easy,” said Millet Panga, secretary of the US-based Philippine Educators Network.

That painful option is the offshoot of an agreement forged by the PGCPS with the labor department, which found it in violation of the terms of the government program that allowed it to recruit highly qualified teachers overseas.

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Since the department decision still has to be approved by an administrative law judge, the Filipino educators are planning to appeal their case.

As part of the settlement, the PGCPS has agreed to pay $4,222,146 in back wages due 1,044 workers to resolve violations of the H-1B temporary foreign worker program. More than 800 of these foreign teachers are Filipinos.

Those violations, the DOL said, stemmed from the school system allowing the foreign teachers to pay for fees, like processing of US visas and green card applications. In the case of some Filipino teachers, they were required by their Philippine recruiters to cough up so-called placement fees, which are unauthorized.

According to the PGCPS, the settlement prohibits it from filing temporary or permanent visa sponsorship petitions for foreign workers and from filing petitions to extend an existing period of authorized stay that expires after June 30, 2011.

As a result, PGCPS said in its website, it would take no further action on pending PERM (labor certification applications for teachers) and green card applications for two years.

“Obviously, this is not the outcome we had hoped for as these employees have provided an exceptional service to our school district,” stated the Prince George’s Public Schools in a statement. “PGCPS did everything possible to retain these excellent and valued employees.”

“However, in the final analysis of the current state of our shrinking school budget and mounting legal fees, we determined that we simply could not afford to continue to operate this program,” it added.

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The visa program requires that employers pay several fees when enrolling workers, but the Department of Labor said that PGCPS was forcing the workers they hired to pay their own fees.

Apart from being banned from filing new petitions or requests for permanent residency status for foreign teachers for two years, PGCPS will also pay a $100,000. This action was taken because of what the DOL called the willful nature of some violations.

The H-1B program allows employers to hire foreign workers in specific occupations to work temporarily in the United States. Workers are required to be paid at least the same wage as those paid to American workers.

Those to be displaced, especially those who have brought their families with them or bought real properties, could end up losing most of their investments once they lose their legal status because their contract could not be renewed or their projected green applications could no longer be processed.

Meanwhile, the Philippine embassy here organized a meeting of the Filipino community on Thursday aimed at exploring options for the affected teachers.

The gathering was dubbed the “Teachers Summit, and held at Fort Washington Multicultural Center in 7500 Livingston Rd., Oxon Hill, Maryland.

The teachers thanked the local Filipino community for their support, including finding other teaching jobs in other schools, which are willing to sponsor the teachers.

However, the options seem to be limited and the prospects bleak at this time because of the impact of the US recession.

The PGCSP cited “new challenges” it has encountered in latest sponsorship of foreign teachers on account of the prevailing economic outlook.

“According to the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA), there are 800 pending SR (supervised recruitment) cases. Of the 800 pending cases nationwide, over 100 of them are PGCPS [foreign national] employees,” it said.

“The denial rate is 70 percent, the withdrawal rate is 15 percent, and the approval rate is 15 percent, which means that few, if any, requests for continued sponsorship are being approved,” it added.

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TAGS: America, Employment, Filipino, PGCPS, Prince George's County Public Schools
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