U.S. slows visa re­newals of 25 for­eign teach­ers in city

Brought in dur­ing 2000s, their visas ex­pire soon; cases are be­ing au­dited

Baltimore Sun - - FRONT PAGE - By Talia Rich­man

The visas of about 25 Bal­ti­more pub­lic school teach­ers will ex­pire at the end of this month, forc­ing the for­eign ed­u­ca­tors to re­turn to coun­tries they haven’t con­sid­ered home for years.

The ma­jor­ity of th­ese teach­ers came from the Philip­pines as part of a mas­sive re­cruit­ment ef­fort by the district in the mid-2000s to fill empty math, sci­ence and spe­cial ed­u­ca­tion po­si­tions.

Since they ar­rived, district of­fi­cials said, they have be­come lead­ers in schools across Bal­ti­more, en­rolled their chil­dren in lo­cal uni­ver­si­ties and made their homes in the city.

“Th­ese are long-term teach­ers who we value and we want to be able to keep them here,” said the sys­tem’s chief hu­man cap­i­tal of­fi­cer, Jeremy Grant-Skinner. “We are at the mercy of the fed­eral govern­ment in terms of se­cur­ing the ex­ten­sion of their visas.”

Grant-Skinner said the district ap­plied months ago to ex­tend the work visas, but pro­cess­ing by the fed­eral govern­ment has dragged on as the teach­ers’ cases were se­lected for an au­dit. It could be an­other six to eight months be­fore fed­eral of­fi­cials de­cide whether to ex­tend the teach­ers’

visas, he said.

A hand­ful of the af­fected Filipino teach­ers de­clined through a union spokes­woman to be in­ter­viewed, cit­ing a fear of putting their visa ex­ten­sions in jeop­ardy.

El­liott Rauh, who works along­side one of the Filipino teach­ers at Van­guard Col­le­giate Mid­dle School, said the teacher — who has been in the district for more than a decade — was his men­tor dur­ing his first year at the school. He called her the “ideal model” of what an ed­u­ca­tor is sup­posed to be. To­gether, they teach sixth, sev­enth and eighth graders di­ag­nosed with autism.

The Filipino teacher, who did not want to be iden­ti­fied, wasn’t able to at­tend a re­cent eighth grade grad­u­a­tion cer­e­mony. Rauh said she was too busy “pack­ing up her house and her life.”

“She took me un­der her wing and trained me,” Rauh said. “It’s head-scratch­ing to me that peo­ple who are highly trained, highly ef­fec­tive and highly qual­i­fied and who are fill­ing a role that’s un­der­served are now­be­ing asked to pack their bags, go home and just only po­ten­tially be in­vited back. It makes no sense.”

The teach­ers are here on H-1B visas, which al­low em­ploy­ers to hire for­eign work­ers for “spe­cialty oc­cu­pa­tions” for which there is a short­age of skilled Amer­i­cans. The visas en­able recipients to stay for an ini­tial three years, with the pos­si­bil­ity of ex­ten­sions.

School districts in Dal­las, Hous­ton and Los Angeles also have re­lied on the pro­gram to re­cruit qual­i­fied teach­ers for hard-to-fill spots. Many of the other recipients of H-1B visas work in the tech­nol­ogy sec­tor, of­ten as soft­ware engineers or pro­gram­mers.

Some con­ser­va­tives, in­clud­ing Pres­i­dent Don­ald J. Trump, have long crit­i­cized the pro­gram, ar­gu­ing that it takes jobs away from Amer­i­can work­ers. Trump signed an ex­ec­u­tive or­der last year in­struct­ing the fed­eral govern­ment to re­assess the pro­gram, which brings in 85,000 for­eign work­ers an­nu­ally.

The an­nounce­ment led to months of height­ened anx­i­ety among the roughly 250 for­eign teach­ers still work­ing in Bal­ti­more pub­lic schools this year.

“I’m sad that this ad­min­is­tra­tion has made this so dif­fi­cult,” said Bal­ti­more Teach­ers Union Pres­i­dent Ma­ri­etta English. “Their at­ti­tude to­ward im­mi­gra­tion is re­ally a detri­ment to the coun­try. Th­ese teach­ers comeded­i­cated. They’re not one or two years and then done. They’re here and it’s just very un­for­tu­nate they have to go back.”

Jeff Gorsky, se­nior coun­sel at im­mi­gra­tion law firm Berry Ap­ple­man & Lei­den, said the teach­ers’ sit­u­a­tion re­flects the ways the Trump White House has worked to stymie the visa process through “ad­min­is­tra­tive bur­dens.”

“Thead­min­is­tra­tion has been do­ing ev­ery­thing they can to slow down and gum up the process,” he said.

The White House did not re­spond to a re­quest for com­ment Tues­day.

Theteach­ers learned their fate last weekin a meet­ing that in­cluded Grant-Skinner, English, schools CEO Sonja San­telises and a representative from the Filipino embassy.

Ad­min­is­tra­tors told them that they would be of­fered po­si­tions within the school district when they’re able to re­turn to the coun­try. The district is work­ing with a Wash­ing­ton­based im­mi­gra­tion law firm as the teach­ers go through the process.

Ac­cord­ing to U.S. Citizenship and Im­mi­gra­tion Ser­vices, a per­son’s law­ful sta­tus in this coun­try ends when their visa ex­pires, even if they have “timely ap­plied” for an ex­ten­sion.

The agency gen­er­ally will de­fer any re­moval pro­ceed­ings un­til after the process is com­pleted.

“Nev­er­the­less, [the Depart­ment of Home­land Se­cu­rity] may bring a re­moval pro­ceed­ing against you, even if you have an ap­pli­ca­tion for ex­ten­sion of sta­tus pend­ing,” ac­cord­ing to the agency.

Most of the teach­ers must leave by the end of the month, but one has to leave this week be­fore the school year ends. Two are Ja­maican and the rest are Filipino, ac­cord­ing to district of­fi­cials.

Bal­ti­more sent re­cruiters to the Philip­pines start­ing in 2005, aim­ing to find teach­ers to fill po­si­tions the school sys­tem typ­i­cally strug­gles to se­cure qual­i­fied can­di­dates for: math, sci­ence and spe­cial ed­u­ca­tion. The South­east Asian coun­try had a sur­plus of ed­u­ca­tion ma­jors and has a largely English-speak­ing pop­u­la­tion.

Hun­dreds of Filipino teach­ers moved to Bal­ti­more over the next sev­eral years, drawn to Amer­ica by the chance to earn a higher salary and find new op­por­tu­ni­ties.

Over the years, many have as­sim­i­lated, Grant-Skinner said, and talk about Bal­ti­more as “home.”

The Rev. Wil­liam Au serves as pas­tor at Bal­ti­more’s Shrine of the Sa­cred Heart Church, where a large por­tion of his parish­ioners are Filipino. He said he’s hope­ful the teach­ers in his parish and oth­ers can come back as soon as pos­si­ble.

“As a pas­tor, I’m re­ally sad that th­ese peo­ple who have been such de­voted teach­ers and such a ser­vice to the city are be­ing forced to leave,” he said. “The city is the loser here, and the state of Mary­land.”

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