Scott G Winterton, KSL

Exemption granted: International teachers can return to Utah dual language programs

By Marjorie Cortez, KSL | Posted - Jul. 22, 2020 at 8:35 p.m.



SALT LAKE CITY — At the urging of Utah’s entire congressional delegation, the Trump administration has granted 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 half a million jobs by denying entry to international educators, tech workers and others under J-1 and H-1B visas.

Utah schools employ 290 teachers who conduct classroom instruction in French, German, Mandarin Chinese, Portuguese, Russian and Spanish for roughly 60,000 public school students.

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 on J-1 or H-1B visas.

On Wednesday, Utah Superintendent of Public Instruction Sydnee Dickson thanked Utah’s representatives and senators for their help in exempting foreign teachers from Trump’s June 22 proclamation suspending “entry of aliens” into the United States as a means to protect U.S. jobs during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We are grateful for the bipartisan help from our representatives in the House and Senate. These international teachers are necessary to keep Utah’s DLI program — which is one of the leading programs in the nation — running at full capacity this school year,” Dickson said.

Led by Rep. John R. Curtis, R-Utah, Rep. Ben McAdams, D-Utah, and Republican Reps. Rob Bishop and Chris Stewart wrote a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Department of Homeland Security Acting Secretary Chad F. Wolf and Department of Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia explaining that schools are unable to fill dual-language immersion teaching positions with American candidates.

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The letter said in part: “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.”

Both Utah senators’ offices also pressed for an exemption, according to the Utah State Board of Education.

In a statement issued by the state board, Curtis said he is thrilled that the delegation’s concerns were heard and dual language immersion teachers will be allowed to receive their visas this year.

“This is good policy for our students and all Utahns, and I am proud to have been a strong advocate for this program. International DLI teachers bring valuable diverse experiences and cultures to the classroom and I am glad to see that they will qualify for a national interest exemption from visa restrictions. I will continue to work with the state, the administration and my colleagues to ensure these teachers can continue the important work they do in Utah,” Curtis said.

Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, said he, too, is pleased that the State Department granted the waivers, “which will allow Utah’s school districts to obtain cultural exchange visas so their teachers can continue their work during the next school year.”

Romney’s office confirmed that U.S. embassies abroad are once again able to issue those visas under a national security exemption to teachers who plan to work in Utah this school year.

“I’m proud to advocate for Utah’s students and will continue working to advocate for our school districts to have access to the resources they need,” Romney said in the statement.

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