Erica L. Green
More than 100 international teachers in the Baltimore city school system will most likely lose their jobs and work visas, after a recent labor market test conducted by the district showed that there were hundreds of foreign instructors teaching in subjects that could be filled by qualified and certified American teachers.
In a meeting with international teachers at Polytechnic Institute on Tuesday, city schools CEO Andres Alonso presented the results of the market test--basically an intensive advertising, interviewing and application review process--which found 213 American teachers who are eligible and interested in teaching in subjects currently taught by teachers.
As a result, Alonso said, of the 154 international teachers who either have to secure permanent residency or leave this year, the district can only sponsor 46. He also said the test showed that the 46 teachers can only teach six subjects: Biology, Chemistry, Computer Science, Special Education, Math and Physics.
"In every other area, we have either more applicants than positions, or surplus teachers who are American citizens," Alonso said.
The U.S. labor law that allows districts to recruit foreign teachers on H-1B work visas says that the teachers can only fill vacancies that cannot be filled by American teachers.
The Department of Labor, which has fined other local school systems millions in penalties for their foreign teacher hiring practices, requires districts who hire and sponsor a high number of foreign teachers to conduct the market test before they sponsor more foreign teachers.
The market test requires everything from reviewing hundreds of applications, actively recruiting on multiple platforms and interviewing. The district will then have to submit a report to the DOL that describes the market test and its findings, and eventually will be audited.
Here are some examples of the city's results:
- In elementary education, there were 65 eligible American teachers found in the market test, and there were 20 teachers whose work visas will expire this year currently teaching in that category. That means the system can sponsor no international elementary education teachers.
- In biology, there were 12 eligible U.S. teachers found, and currently there are 15 international teachers teaching biology in the city. That means the district can sponsor three of those teachers.
The majority of the teachers impacted represent a group from the Philippines, who came to Baltimore between 2005 and 2007, when the city began recruiting international educators to fill vacancies in subject areas such as science, math and special education.
The teachers, who left their families and jobs and paid up to $10,000 each to come to the district, were brought to Baltimore with H-1B visas, which can be renewed once, but not for more than six years total.
At the time, the city didn't have enough qualified teachers to fill the positions, and in recent years, that trend has reversed with the system carrying more than 100 surplus teachers each year since 2008.
"The market test came out pretty much as we predicted," he said.
For Alonso, the presentation at Poly was a moment of truth after a tumultuous year. For the international teachers, it confirmed their worst fears.
Anxiety has been building among the group since March 2011, when teachers began receiving letters of denial for U.S. citizenship.
The teachers decried what they called broken promises on the part of the district, saying that they were promised sponsorship for permanent residency when they first arrived, and during lobbying for the Baltimore Teachers Union contract.
A series of stories by The Sun illustrated a bit of a fiasco, and ultimately school system admitted that it was ill-prepared to help with the filings, and frankly, quite ignorant of the intensive and timely process.
Alonso met several times with the international community, vowing that he was personally committed to helping every foreign teacher --and has spent $8 million doing so in the last year--but warned that the district would have limitations and would need to follow labor laws.
The system convened an entire committee devoted to the issue, personally overseen by Chief of Staff Tisha Edwards, and hired a team of immigration attorneys to spearhead the efforts and work with each teacher individually on their immigration filings.
But Alonso told the teachers Tuesday that "it's irresponsible for me to spend more district dollars on this process." Though, he assured that for the teachers the district could sponsor, "we are committed in exactly the same way."
For the 46 teachers who will get to stay, a review of evaluation and other criteria by the union and district officials will begin next week to determine who the system will sponsor. Alonso vowed it would be a fair and transparent process.
The concern that teachers seemed to vocalize most at the Tuesday meeting was that the district will not honor mid-year resignations for the next five years--which has happened a lot in the last year since Filipino teachers began to understand that their permanent residency outlook was bleak.
The system said it wasn't fair to students if a large amount of teachers began leaving mid-year.
"We understand that you don't want to leave the students hanging, and we want to help with that," one teacher said to Alonso. "But we also don't want ourselves and our families left hanging either."
According to the presentation Tuesday, the district will conduct a market test every September from 2014 through 2017.