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Filipino Teachers’ Broken American Dream - Amelia Pang

WASHINGTON—Over 1,000 Filipino teachers have come to work in Prince George's County Public Schools (PGCPS) in Maryland. Many were recruited by the school board while in the Philippines, with promises of a better life.

"The irony is my life has not gotten better, it has gotten worse," said a Filipino PG County teacher who requested to remain anonymous to avoid risk of losing her job.

This teacher sold her property, car, and "borrowed money left and right" in the Philippines in order to move with her immediate family to the United States. "It took us two years to pay off our debt of $13,500. But on our third year, we found out the schools could not renew our visas and we may not get a green card like it was promised," she said.

This past April, the Department of Labor (DOL) found that "PGCPS illegally reduced the wages of 1,044 foreign teachers hired under the H-1B program by requiring the payment of $4,224,146 in fees."

The work visa fees were supposed to be paid for by the school board. Instead, they were charged to the international teachers.

In consequence, the DOL ordered PGCPS to pay $1.7 million in penalties and $4.2 million of wages back to the foreign teachers—mostly Filipinos. They were also debarred from extending visas or requesting permanent residency for any international teacher under their work visa program.

It has been seven months, but the teachers have yet to receive any compensation.

The Filipino teachers are unsure when they will receive their payments. "We could really use the money to start over in another state," said the teacher. They say it would be more reasonable to debar PGCPS after 2014, when "all those they hired can get their green card like it was promised to us."

"I still believe we are second-class citizens here; no matter how much we might do, nothing will happen. So many appeals done by the teachers union and DOL regarding the decision to debar PG, but nothing happened..." she said.

The teachers union tried to appeal the decision to debar PGCPS, but the common opinion among the Filipino teachers is "No matter how much we do nothing will change because we are second-class citizens," she said.

Many could not renew their visas, and have already returned to the Philippines. Some have gone to other states to work under a new employment-based visa program.

"They tell us there are 50 states, plenty of employment opportunities, but it is not easy to find a new job," she said. Those unable to renew their visas will have to return to the Philippines and "start over from square one ... Many of us sold everything to come here ... Many bought houses and cars in the U.S."

The school board had an open forum meeting with the effected teachers after the ruling was made. According to the teacher, the school board claims green cards are not guaranteed because there is no official document on paper promising permanent residency.

"We just believed them when they said they promised. We didn't think of getting it on paper," the Filipino teacher said.

It is predicted that by the end of this year, visas of 800 Filipino teachers will expire.

The P.G County School Board

DOL Spokeswoman Elizabeth Alexander said the school board "refused to acknowledge" the $4.2 million back wages with due seriousness, according to the Alliance of Business Immigration Lawyers (ABIL).

According to PGCPS spokesperson Briant Coleman, the schools were unaware of any violations after the settlement.

"When we were notified by the Department of Labor that we were doing something that was not in accordance with regulations, we corrected it immediately and paid the fees ever since," Coleman said.

When asked where the money went since the Filipino teachers have not received any, Coleman said the DOL is handling the money.

According to Coleman, the school board did not realize the visa fees were not supposed to be paid by the teachers. Yet, due to "the current state of our shrinking school budget and mounting legal fees, we determined that we simply could not afford to continue to operate this program."

The schools have tried their best to prevent legal fees from effecting students. So far, the school board has not cut any programs.

"PGCPS did everything possible to retain these excellent and valued employees," said Coleman.

Source: Amelia Pang,The Epoch Times, 9 November 2011

Link: http://www.theepochtimes.com/n2/united-states/filipino-teachers-broken-american-dream-138796.html




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