Nearly 25 Baltimore public school teachers will see their visas expire at the end of June, when they will be forced to return to the Philippines and Jamaica, where they’re from, compounding Baltimore’s already severe teacher shortage.
According to the Baltimore Sun, the teachers came to the United States in the mid-2000s on H-1B visas, which allow employers to hire skilled foreign workers in a range of fields like technology, research, and education. Baltimore City Public Schools hired the teachers to fill positions in the math, science, and special education fields. While the district applied to extend the teachers’ visas months ago, the federal government has moved slowly, Jeremy Grant-Skinner, the district’s chief human capital officer, told the Sun.
“We are at the mercy of the federal government in terms of securing the extension of their visas,” he said.
But it’s not likely the extension will come. Over the past year, the Trump administration’s anti-immigrant agenda has spread to those on H-1B and H4 visas, which allow the spouses of those on H-1B visas to also live in the United States (although the Obama administration allowed certain H4 visa-holders to obtain employment, President Donald Trump plans to end that policy, which also affects some teachers).
In April 2017, Trump signed the “Buy American, hire American” executive order, which demanded a review of H-1B visas, resulting in an increase in the number of “requests for evidence” notices sent by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to applicants, dragging out the process.
This policy, coupled with rising teacher shortages and poor teacher retention rates across the country, can have disastrous consequences. According to the Sun, over the last five years, Maryland public school teachers have left the school system — largely due to low pay and poor working conditions — at a yearly rate of 5.5 to 7 percent. Teacher attrition disproportionately affects disadvantaged school districts made up largely of students of color and those from low-income families.
“The biggest losers in this situation are the kids,” Elliott Rauh, a special education teacher at Vanguard Collegiate Middle School, told the Sun, adding that his students “thrive on regularity and routine” and would have trouble coping with a teacher’s absence.
“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 now being asked to pack their bags, go home and just only potentially be invited back. It makes no sense,” he said.
The problem is a national one, as school districts across the country rely on the H-1B program to recruit teachers. The United States caps H-1B approvals at 85,000 a year, but there are hundreds of thousands of H-1B visa holders currently living and working in the United States. According to data from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), 6 percent of these workers were in the education field in 2015.
In 2018, the number of applicants for the H-1B visa program dropped for the second year in a row, likely a result of the Trump administration’s policies that make obtaining a visa much more difficult.
“I’m sad that this administration has made this so difficult,” Baltimore Teachers Union President Marietta English told the Sun. “Their attitude toward immigration is really a detriment to the country. These teachers come dedicated. They’re not one or two years and then done. They’re here and it’s just very unfortunate they have to go back.”