SALT LAKE CITY — Utah’s congressional delegation is urging the Trump administration to consider an exemption to a visa ban for international educators who teach in dual-language immersion programs in Utah schools.
On June 22, President Donald Trump issued a presidential order the White House says is intended to save more than a half-million jobs by denying entry to international educators, tech workers and others under J-1 and H-1B visas.
In a bipartisan letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Department of Homeland Security Acting Secretary Chad F. Wolf and Department of Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia, Utah’s representatives wrote that schools are unable to fill dual-language immersion teaching positions with American candidates.
“We believe that the ability to reopen schools safely in the fall and to provide a first-class education is in the national interest of Utah and American families,” wrote Utah Democratic Rep. Ben McAdams and Republican Reps. Chris Stewart, Rob Bishop and John Curtis.
Stewart, in a press release, said international educators who teach Chinese, German, French, Portuguese, Russian and Spanish in Utah immersion programs “also facilitate an exchange of cultures and share their fluency in languages all deemed critical by the U.S. Department of Defense.”
McAdams, in a statement, noted that he and Curtis “personally understand the benefits of learning and speaking foreign languages, having learned Mandarin Chinese and Portuguese, respectively, while serving missions for our church,” McAdams said.
Bishop, who served a church mission in Germany, speaks German.
“The dual-language immersion programs in Utah schools are effective and appreciated by Utah families. We shouldn’t deny this educational opportunity,” he said.
There are about 200 immersion programs in Utah public schools, according to state education officials.
The program employs a 50-50 model in which students spend half of their school day instructed exclusively in a target language and half in English. Most programs start in first grade, although some begin in kindergarten.
Utah schools hire 60 to 70 native teachers from China, Brazil, France, Germany, Mexico, Peru and Spain each year to staff these programs. Teachers come to the United States and stay for three years, and sometimes as long as five.
The House members’ letter notes that they understand and support prioritization of American workers, but “we are concerned that the recent prohibition of J-1 and H-1B visas will put dual immersion language students at a disadvantage this school year – when schools already face uncertainty due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Utah dual language immersion program utilizes J-1 and H-1B visas to fill teacher openings if, and only if, those positions cannot be filled by American applicants, thus ensuring that international teachers are not replacing American workers.”
Robert Austin, international initiatives and social studies specialist for the Utah State Board of Education, said he hopes the letter will shed light on how the order, titled” Suspension of Entry of Immigrants Who Present a Risk to the United States Labor Market During the Economic Recovery Following the 2019 Novel Coronavirus Outbreak,” impacts dual-language immersion programs and that the Trump administration will revisit the prohibition on teachers’ visas.
“A lot of times there are unintended consequences to policy decisions. In this case, even though the argument is sound regarding concerns for employment, the reality with our need for highly skilled teachers with that specific language skill set is just something we can’t meet with homegrown talent no matter how hard we try,” Austin said Monday.