[lg policy] Schools: US immigration policy makes it tougher to hire Chinese teachers

Harold Schiffman haroldfs at gmail.com
Wed Oct 17 11:55:37 EDT 2018

=+ Schools: US immigration policy makes it tougher to hire Chinese teachers
By ZHANG RUINAN in New York | China Daily USA | Updated: 2018-10-17 01:41
Yang Ying, a Chinese teacher at HudsonWay Immersion School in New York, is
teaching kindergarten students how to make plasticine in classroom in

Chinese-language learning is soaring in US public and private schools, but
school officials say the stricter immigration policies of the Trump
administration are making it difficult to retain and find enough qualified

Sharon Huang, the founder of HudsonWay Immersion School, said that she
holds her breath and prays for several of the Chinese-language teachers at
her two schools to get work visas to continue teaching.

"We've had teachers who were denied work visas and they cannot continue to
stay in the US; that's very difficult for us as a school. We've invested
time training the teachers, and the teachers are happy about their life
here," said Huang. "More importantly, the families and children are happy
with the teachers, so you don't want to have to change teachers during a
school year."

The schools Huang runs in New York City and Stirling, New Jersey, have
about 200 students and around 27 Chinese-language teachers, most of whom
are native Chinese and stay in the US for up to six years on the H-1B visa
for skilled foreign workers.

This year, Huang filed around a half-dozen applications for her teachers
for the work visa, and a couple of the teachers did not get an H-1B visa
through the lottery system or were asked for further evidence to justify
why they deserve the visa.

"We've seen more questioning in this administration and we've seen some
changes (on H-1B visas)," Huang said. "The difficult thing for us is in
other industries, whether you hire an engineer for overseas may or may not
be necessary, but for us, with the nature of this, we have to have native
speakers. It just makes the whole mission more challenging, even though the
US government has stated that it wants a lot of students in America to
study Chinese."

The Trump administration's tightening on immigration has meant stronger
scrutiny, longer processing time and fewer approvals for work visas.

"We've seen many more strict rules on H-1B visas after President Trump took
office," said Fang Peng, a New York-based Chinese immigration lawyer with
more than 20 years' experience representing H-1B applicants. "And a growing
number of applicants received initial requests for evidence (RFE), in which
additional documents are required to support an application's eligibility."

This year, during the filing period in April, the United States Citizenship
and Immigration Services (USCIS) received 190,098 H-1B applications, a
decrease of about 4.5 percent compared with last year. Last year, RFEs
increased 45 percent, data from USCIS show.

"The higher level of scrutiny for H-1B visas is one of the indicators of
Trump's restriction on immigrant visas," Fang said, adding that the changes
were part of Trump's directive to federal agencies to implement a "Buy
American, Hire American" strategy.

Hiring a native Chinese speaker is crucial for the American schools
offering Chinese-language programs and especially for schools with an
immersion curriculum, where elementary students take at least half their
classes in Mandarin.

"We have about 10 Chinese teachers in our school, and most of them are
native speakers from China," said Chang, educational director of an
immersion Chinese program for early childhood in New York City. "We are
looking for native speakers because we have to; they must have academic
fluency in writing and reading — and they also need to have educational

Chang, who asked that her full name and the name of her program not be
revealed, said most foreign teachers in her program are international
students, and they must apply for H-1B visas if they want to stay in the US.

"It's getting more and more difficult in the recent years," Chang said. "We
provide sponsorship for the work visa, but the scrutiny is getting stronger
and we must prepare additional documents for our teachers to get approval —
but some still got denied."

"I applied for the work visa this year, and I received the RFE two months
ago," said Amy Chen, who got her master's degree in early childhood
education from Teachers College of Columbia University last year. "I have
to stop working while I'm waiting for the results, and it's in the middle
of the fall semester — the kids in my class were very frustrated."

Chen works for an immersion program in New Jersey and she plans to go back
to China if she cannot get approval. "I really want to stay here to teach
Chinese but I have no choice," she said.

"There has definitely been an increased interest in learning Chinese. When
schools are adding languages, they are intent on diversifying their
language offerings, and many are interested in adding Chinese," Marty
Abbott, the executive director of American Council on the Teaching of
Foreign Languages (ACTFL) told China Daily.

"The 2007-08 enrollments reflected only about 50,000 students learning
Mandarin, and the latest figures for 2017 indicate 227,086, or around 2.13
percent of students taking languages," Abbott said, adding that the number
reflects both public and private schools but does not take into account the
high number of students learning Chinese in weekend or after school

Abbott said that at the same time, the demand for teachers has grown, and
if a school adds Chinese, it needs to find a qualified teacher.

Foreign language teachers are in short supply in general throughout the
United States. Some 44 out of 50 states report having problems filling
positions for these teachers, according to 2017 data from the American
Academy of Arts and Sciences.

"The Chinese government has been helpful by sending 'guest teachers'
through a program with The College Board, but these teachers can only stay
a maximum of three years," Abbott said.

"There has been increased interest in finding native or near-native
speakers here in the US who can become certified to teach Chinese at the
K-12 level."

"I got my bachelor's degree on early childhood education at the Miami
University in Ohio," said Yang Ying, a Chinese teacher who won the H-1B
visa lottery last year at the HudsonWay Immersion School. "There were only
three Chinese students in the early childhood education program in our
class, and the other two girls all went back to China because they can't
stay here."

Yang said because the H-1B sponsorship costs a school several thousand
dollars per application, coupled with the random selection process and
stricter scrutiny, it's become very difficult for Chinese students who
majored in education in the US and who want to stay in the US to develop
their teaching experience.

"I think it's important to remember that overall there is a teacher
shortage; there's never been a surplus of teachers," said Stacy Lyon,
director of Utah's Chinese dual-language immersion program.

 Harold F. Schiffman

Professor Emeritus of
 Dravidian Linguistics and Culture
Dept. of South Asia Studies
University of Pennsylvania
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6305

Phone:  (215) 898-7475
Fax:  (215) 573-2138

Email:  haroldfs at gmail.com

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