Hundreds of Pinoy teachers in US may be sent home

Published by rudy Date posted on May 10, 2011

WASHINGTON – Hundreds of Filipino teachers in Prince George’s County in Maryland face the prospect of being sent home, some as early as June, when their visas expire and are not renewed because of a bureaucratic tangle, officials said.

The crux of the problem is that the county has not reimbursed foreign teachers their visa application fees, said the US Labor Department, which ruled that the County Public Schools System should pay about 1,000 foreign teachers, mostly Filipinos, $4.2 million in back pay.

It also fined the county schools $1.7 million.

School officials are appealing the ruling.

They maintain they did nothing wrong and blame the trouble on unclear federal rules.

If the labor ruling stands, county schools will be unable to renew H-1B guest-worker visas good for three years for its foreign employees, the Washington Post said in an article on the labor dispute on Saturday.

It said the Prince George’s County school system brought the Filipino teachers in by the hundreds in the past decade to comply with the No Child Left Behind federal law. Now the teachers are at risk of being sent home because the school system failed to comply with another federal law.

The result could mean as many as 957 foreign teachers – more than 10 percent of the county’s teaching corps – could lose their visas by 2014, it said.

Among the first to go would be Charisse Cabrera whose visa expires in June.

She told the newspaper she was not interested in any back pay which amounts to about $4,000 per teacher because she’d rather keep her job and try to become a permanent US resident, a so-called Green Card holder.

“It would feel so good to know that America thinks I benefit their country,” she said.

Cabrera’s recruitment was arranged by Filipino agency Arrowhead Manpower Resources.

The Post said Arrowhead charged successful recruits more than $10,000 in fees and many had to sell houses and take out loans to pay the fees.

It said when the labor department started its probe in 2007, school officials started to reimburse teachers for the mandatory portion of the application fees.

It was not until 2009 that officials learned that Arrowhead had collected additional processing fees that were also supposed to be reimbursed.

Arrowhead president Ching Rodrigues told the Post she followed labor laws in the Philippines and no US agency has accused it of wrongdoing.

Lita Kelly, principal of Carole Highlands Elementary School, where Cabrera is a pre-kindergarten teacher, praised her as “a great teacher” and said, “If I could keep her, I absolutely would.”

Meanwhile, a dispute over a Prince George’s county school decision not to renew the visas of foreign teachers in non-critical area assignments such as social studies because of a budget shortfall has been rescinded following representations by labor union leaders.

In a letter to all teachers earlier in the week, county public school officials said decisions regarding H-1B visa renewals would be made without regard to teaching assignments in critical and non-critical areas.

Prince George’s began recruiting foreign teachers in 2005 because officials had trouble filling jobs with American teachers who could meet the tougher certification standards imposed by the federal No Child Left Behind law, said Synthia Shilling, the county’s chief human resources officer.

Two-thirds of these educators teach in critical areas, such as high school math and science, as well as special education. –Jose KatigbakK, STAR Washington Bureau (The Philippine Star)

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