With visas of Baltimore teachers set to expire, Maryland lawmakers ask for action

Five members of Maryland’s congressional delegation are asking the Secretary of Labor to take action now that the visas of 25 Baltimore teachers are set to expire this month.

In a Thursday letter, the Democratic lawmakers urged Secretary Alexander Acosta to reconsider an audit process they say will result in the loss of dedicated, longtime educators.

Most of the teachers with expiring visas came from the Philippines as part of a large-scale recruitment effort by the district in the mid-2000s. They were brought here to fill empty math, science and special education positions — subject areas where the school system faces consistent shortages.

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 allow recipients to stay for three years, with the possibility of extensions.

These teachers have been in the United States for eight to 12 years, according to the letter.

District officials applied in 2013 for certifications that would allow the teachers to work permanently in the United States, according to the letter, but they were denied. A second application for the Permanent Labor Certification Program was recently selected by the Department of Labor for an audit, which is expected to take “several months” to complete.

Without a decision by June 30, the lawmakers wrote, “these 25 individuals who have dutifully served Baltimore students for a decade will be forced to leave the community they now call home due to expired H-1B visas.

“It would be a loss for the Baltimore community and undercut the ability of City Schools to provide a high-quality education in important academic areas that prepare students, including those with special needs, for in-demand jobs,” wrote Sens. Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen, along with Reps. Elijah E. Cummings, C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger and John Sarbanes.

District officials say these teachers are leaders in their schools and have made their lives in Baltimore. Two are from Jamaica and the rest are from the Philippines. One had to leave before the school year ended earlier this week.

Administrators have told the teachers that they will be offered positions within the school district should they be able to return to the country.

The H-1B program is controversial, and some, including President Donald Trump, argue it directs jobs away from American workers.

A Department of Labor spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday night.

The Maryland lawmakers are urging the agency to give “prompt consideration to the audit of City Schools’ PERM application, in accordance with established policies and procedures.”

trichman@baltsun.com

twitter.com/TaliRichman

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