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The Suburbanite
  • Visa cap hits local teachers

  • Both Jackson and Plain Local school districts lost teachers this year because they weren’t able to obtain the visas they needed to work. School officials said it’s a frustrating situation because the teachers add a valuable cultural element tfor the students.

     

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  • Rui Tan, who is from China, taught Mandarin to eighth- through 12th-graders at Jackson Local Schools last year. She held a student visa, which allowed her to work for one year after graduating in 2012 with her master’s in education.
    But the visa expired, and she didn’t get to return to her job because she couldn’t get the visa she needed.
    “The only thing I can do is stay home and wait,” Tan said.
    Both Jackson Local and Plain Local school districts lost teachers this year because they weren’t able to obtain the visas they needed to work. School officials said it is a frustrating situation because the instructors added a valuable cultural element for the students.
    “I was signed up to teach again for this year because everyone thought it was going to work,” Tan said. “It’s really sad.”
    ‘WE DIDN’T WIN THE LOTTERY’
    The federal government caps the number of H-1B visas available to foreign workers in specialized jobs. On April 1 of each year, 65,000 spots open. If more people than there are visas apply, a lottery system is used to determine who gets them, said Marilu Cabrera, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services branch of the Department of Homeland Security.
    This year, for the first time since 2008, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services reached its cap within the first week of the filing period, according to an April press release posted on the Immigration Services website.
    “We didn’t win the lottery,” said Linda Salom, who oversees International Baccalaureate and secondary curriculum for Jackson.
    Tan didn’t get a visa, and neither did Olaya Cuervo-Gonzalez, a Spanish teacher who had taught at both Jackson and Plain since 2010, said Karen Vrabec, spokeswoman for Plain Local Schools.
    WHAT NEXT
    Salom said she’s in talks with Stark State College about striking up a partnership that would allow the districts’ teachers to apply for visas through the college.
    Workers who are petitioned for or employed by a higher education institution or its affiliates are exempt from the cap, according to the Immigration Services website.
    Irene Lewis Motts, a spokeswoman for Stark State College, said the college’s provost and Jackson are in preliminary discussions and that any agreement would be reviewed by the Ohio Attorney General’s Office.
    Salom said she doesn’t know what the program would look like or when it could potentially be implemented. She and Stark State officials are examining ways the teachers could provide classes for both high-school and college students through distance learning.
    Parthena Draggett, the foreign language chair for Jackson, said it could be a beneficial deal for both schools — Jackson’s teachers would get their visas, and Stark State would get a language program.
    Page 2 of 2 - “With this kind of collaboration, I see this being a win-win situation for both of us,” she said.
    ‘TWO CONFLICTING FORCES’
    For Jackson, not being able to have teachers obtain visas means there’s no longer a Spanish program in place for sixth- and seventh-grade students, and the person who was supposed to teach Chinese to middle-school students is filling in for Tan at the high school.
    “We’re taking a step backwards unless we can get this solved,” Draggett said.
    John Charlton, spokesman for the state department of education, said he didn’t know anything about the visa limit affecting schools in Ohio.
    Salom said she likes having teachers from other countries teach students foreign languages because it also helps build their cultural understanding of that country. And while Salom knows the government has good reason for imposing a visa quota, it’s also frustrating, she said, because the school has the support of state department of education, and Jackson parents want additional languages taught in the district.
    “To have it stopped because we can’t have a visa is like two conflicting forces going here,” Salom said.
    Reach Alison at 330-580-8312 or alison.matas@cantonrep.com.
    On Twitter: @amatasREP