As an immigration attorney, Kathleen Gasparian works with a variety of small businesses that are trying to secure visas for foreign-born workers. “I have many employers come into my office for all sorts of jobs,” she says. They tell her, “‘I need tree-cutters. I need a neurosurgeon.’”
And all too often, the request is from principals in need of teachers. Some Louisiana public schools are seriously understaffed, in part, because of budgets and salary scales. “For some of our rural schools, there are no applicants,” Gasparian says. Young professionals interested in careers in education simply don’t want to live in rural Louisiana when they could live in New Orleans.
Public and charter schools in areas that are less attractive to young professionals or offering unique curricula often end up relying on foreign workers. “If they can find American workers, they’ll hire them,” Gasparian says. But often, schools can’t. “There’s just not enough Chinese language teachers in Texas or French immersion teachers in Louisiana.” And so the schools rely on “foreign teachers with master’s degrees coming in to teach subjects that they can’t find teachers for.”
For some of our rural schools, there are no applicants [for teaching positions.] Our students here in the public school system are grossly disadvantaged.
But Gasparian says that obtaining the appropriate visa for these teachers is expensive, costing somewhere between $3,000 and $5,000 per application, with filing fees and legal fees. Worse, the odds for an employer of actually having a visa petition accepted is only about one in six. For a public or charter school, that’s a lot of money to spend on lawyers without a guarantee of actually getting the teacher they want. “They don’t have the money to gamble,” Gasparian says. And if schools fail to get a full-time teacher into a position, “now they’re having to spend double and triple to get substitutes to cover things.”
Gasparian wants immigration reform that would exempt far more K-12 schools from the cap on the number of visas available. It “would be incredibly meaningful for my schools,” she says. “Our students here in the public school system are grossly disadvantaged. Here are these schools trying to really make a difference in the lives of kids” and they can’t get the teachers they need. “It’s heartbreaking.”