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Barring of Belgian Teachers Protested

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The Kansas City School District is appealing a decision by federal immigration officials in Lincoln, Neb., to deny special visas for 14 Belgian teachers hired to teach French in elementary foreign-language magnet schools.

The language schools represent 6 of 15 magnet schools in the district's court-ordered desegregation program.

The district had sought special "H-1" visas, which are granted to temporary workers with particular skills, for the Belgian teachers. With these visas, the teachers would have been exempted from a provision in the federal immigration law that requires the U.S. Labor Department to certify that a foreign worker is not taking a job from an American citizen.

The regional office of the Immigration and Naturalization Service denied the request in a letter that said: "You have failed to establish that the position is a profession or that a person of distinguished merit and ability is needed. Additionally, you have failed to establish that the beneficiary has at least a bachelor's degree or the equivalent, or is of renown or is pre-eminent in his field of endeavor."

Immigration rules specify that an applicant for an H-1 visa must be ''an alien having a residence in a foreign country which he has no intention of abandoning ... who is of distinguished merit and ability and who is coming to the United States to perform services of an exceptional nature requiring such merit and ability."

In Belgium, teachers complete a two-year, full-time program at a teachers' college.

Duke Austin, a press officer in the Washington, D.C., immigration office, said the documentation provided did not prove that "their two years are equal to our four." When4asked what specific documentation could be provided to prove equality, Mr. Austin said, "Anything to show the extent of their training is the same as ours."

Bonnie Sims, personnel director for the city's magnet schools, said the district provided immigration officials with copies of the teachers' diplomas, a statement from the Belgian Minister of Education about the teacher-training system, and approval of the state teacher-certification board.

Approval Granted in Ohio

In Ohio, where visa applications are considered at ins district offices rather than a regional servicing center, immigration officials recently approved H-1 visas for Belgian teachers hired by the Cincinnati and Columbus school districts.

Robert Brown, district director for the ins in Cleveland, said his office accepted the state licensing board as an authority on teacher qualifications in those cases.

"It is my understanding that an accredited body can be considered an authority," Mr. Brown said. "In our case in Ohio, we felt the state teacher-licensing board knew better than we did who is qualified to teach and who isn't."

Hope Frye, an immigration lawyer who represents both the Cincinnati and Kansas City districts, said she concurred that a state licensing board should be the authority on who is qualified to teach. She also said the discrepancy in the visa rulings between Missouri and Ohio suggested that different factors may be weighed in decisions made at the two levels.

"What does a person sitting in an office in Lincoln, Neb., care about the Kansas City desegregation program?" asked Ms. Frye, who is a member of the board of governors of the American Immigration Lawyers8Association. "They gave a boilerplate denial and did not try to attempt to observe the situation."

Although the majority of requests that a local office receives get routed to a regional servicing center to be adjudicated, the local office does have the power to handle cases when necessary.

In the Ohio case, Mr. Brown said the local office handled the request for H-1 visas because the districts needed speedy handling to insure that the teachers could begin with the school year.

Mr. Austin of the Washington office said that if there were inconsistencies in rulings, they would have to be resolved. But he offered no specific solutions.

Americans Hired Originally

Ms. Sims of Kansas City said American teachers were first hired for the foreign-language schools, but they had to be replaced because, like most American foreign-language teachers, they were certified to teach at the secondary level. The school district's program involves "total immersion," in which all elementary subjects are taught in both English and a foreign language.

Ms. Sims said eight teachers from West Germany hired by the district received their H-1 visas with no problem, but the district has not heard from the ins about the status of 11 Argentinians who also have been hired.

Ms. Sims also stressed that the Belgian teachers had teaching experience--many of them had taught in the United States--and that they were certified by the Missouri teacher-licensing board.

The appeals process could take three or four months.

In the meantime, the teachers of French who are available in the Kansas City magnet schools will take on extra students until the matter is resolved.

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