The Feds' Investigation Into Garland ISD's Visa Problems Could Cost the District Serious Cash
The outcome of the federal investigation into Garland ISD's H1-B program, which recruited dozens of bilingual teachers from foreign countries and is now sending many of them back, is uncertain. But if past federal H1-B cases involving school districts are any indication, it could cost the district. Big time.
There are two issues at play here. One is the headline-grabbing one in which teachers, who were promised help getting a green card, are denied permanent residency and have to go back to their home country.
This one is largely outside a school district's control. The H1-B is a nonimmigrant visa, carrying no promises that the holder will be allowed to stay beyond the six-year maximum. School districts can apply for permanent residency on behalf of their foreign employees, and they can, and often do, appeal the inevitable rejection to the Office of Administrative Law Judges (Garland ISD has 37 appeals on file; Dallas ISD has 211), though the chances of success are "pretty low," according to immigration attorney Eugene Flynn.
The reason, Flynn says, is that school districts generally rely on H1-B workers to fill entry-level bilingual teaching positions. Convincing a federal judge that it's too hard to find qualified Americans (i.e. those with a bachelor's degree and a willingness to complete a teacher-certification program) is tough, "unless the economy is really booming and it's Dallas ISD and nobody wants to teach there."
Translation: For foreign teachers being wooed by school districts with promises of a green card, it's buyer beware.
The other issue, and the one where school districts can get into real trouble, has to do with fees. Under federal immigration law, it's the employer who has to foot the bill for H1-B workers, Flynn says. The costs of obtaining the visa, the green-card application, if one is filed, any appeals -- it's all supposed to come from the school district's pocket. Charging the employee or docking his or her paycheck is a definite no-no.
What scant information has been released so far suggests that something along those lines may have happened in Garland.
If that is the case -- and we'll have to let the federal investigation run its course to know for sure -- it could be costly. As an example of a potential outcome, Flynn points to a 2011 case in which the U.S. Department of Labor forced Prince George's County Public Schools in Maryland to pay $5.9 million ($4.2 million in back wages, $1.7 million in penalties) for making 1,044 teachers hired through its H1-B program cover their own costs.
Garland ISD is about half the size of Prince George's County and currently employs 260 teachers through its H1-B program, so its potential liability appears to be smaller. But it might have its checkbook handy just in case.
Send your story tips to the author, Eric Nicholson.