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L.A. Move Riles Foreign Teachers Seeking Residency

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The Los Angeles Unified School District has angered some teachers recruited from abroad by discontinuing its practice of sponsoring foreign teachers for permanent residency.

The district had helped foreign teachers get permanent residency in the past, but recently eliminated the practice after budget problems left its personnel division too short of staff to process immigration paperwork.

Sponsors must certify that the person is employed in a position that cannot be filled by a qualified U.S. citizen.

The district employs about 190 teachers from other nations who have been allowed to work in the United States under temporary visas because teachers with their specialties are in short supply.

Most of them are special- and bilingual-education teachers recruited from Mexico, Spain, and Canada, district officials said.

Kathleen A. Price, administrative director of personnel for the district, said three years of budget troubles have forced her to cut 110 positions from her office and the district to stop recruiting from abroad last summer.

Administrators from other districts interviewed last week said the recession also has taken a toll on their efforts to recruit hard-to-find teachers from abroad, and has put some foreign teachers in danger of losing the jobs that serve as their only claim to legal residency.

"I think this is a very real issue of the economic times," said Leticia Quezada, a member of the Los Angeles Unified school board.

"What particularly concerns me," Ms. Quezada said, "is our inability to continue recruiting bilingual teachers when we have such a drastic need for them and are unable to recruit them here or in other states."

"We have 2,000 bilingual classes that should in fact have a fully certified bilingual teacher, and such a person cannot be found," she said. Heather Haddon, a Canadian-born special-education teacher in Los Angeles, said she is "in a state of limbo" following the notice she got last summer that the district was withdrawing its offer of sponsorship for permanent residency.

While Ms. Haddon, who has been a U.S. resident since 1989, said that the district never "promised" to sponsor her, it advised and encouraged her to believe she was going to receive sponsorship.

'A Permanent Thing'

"I made this move believing it to be a permanent thing. I sold everything I had. I resigned my job," she said. "Obviously, I would not have done that if I had known the district was going to pull this one?

She is now in the process of renewing her temporary visa for the second time, but said, "I have no idea how much longer I'm going to be here."

Barring a change in policy, Ms. Haddon said she is faced with finding a school system that will sponsor her or returning to Canada, which she does not want to do.

Ms. Price agreed that the district never promised to sponsor foreign teachers during its recruitment efforts, but might have told some that "we have a number of teachers who are working under temporary visas for whom we have applied for permanent residency."

John Perez, secondary vice president for the United Teachers of Los Angeles, said his union cannot intervene because no contractual violation took place.

Other districts have faced similar problems.

When the Dallas Independent School District was struggling last fall to balance its budget, it considered laying off bilingual teachers it had recruited from Puerto Rico.

While the teachers never were let go, the district stopped recruiting Caribbean teachers, citing problems in processing immigration paperwork quickly and budget uncertainties that left the teachers subject to layoffs.

Margaret K. Singer, foreign languages coordinator for the Louisiana Department of Education, said she is hoping that forthcoming trade agreements between the United States, Canada, and Mexico will make it easier to bring foreign teachers into her state.

Louisiana requires foreign language instruction in grades 4-8 and has had difficulty finding teachers to carry out the mandate, she said.

Staff writer Millicent Lawton contributed to this story.

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