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Dover Post
  • U.S. immigration policy poses unique challenges for school language program

  • Two years ago, the Caesar Rodney School District created a Mandarin immersion program at McIlvaine Early Childhood Center that gave students the opportunity to learn the language from native speakers.
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  • Two years ago, the Caesar Rodney School District created a Mandarin immersion program at McIlvaine Early Childhood Center that gave students the opportunity to learn the language from native speakers.
    That program has now expanded to several elementary schools in the district, but the staff members who emigrated from China to Delaware to teach the classes are now struggling to learn their own lessons about navigating the complicated waters of U.S. immigration policy.
    “The issue is you do all this work and there’s no guarantee that you’ll necessarily get the visas [for the teachers to stay],” explained Dave Perrington, the district’s assistant superintendent. “The demand is always greater than the supply … There is a great deal of anxiety because there is a waiting period.”
    That waiting period recently put the district’s immersion program in jeopardy, as three of its teachers waited to learn whether they would receive HB1 visas, which would allow them to remain in the country for up to six years.
    District officials applied for the visas on the teachers’ behalf. But to cover their bases, the district also began searching out new candidates for their jobs in case those applications were denied.
    “We posted those positions meaning we knew there was a very good chance we may not get the visas,” Perrington said. “All of the teachers in the positions we posted were on temporary contracts. We knew their [student] visas would expire, but we also knew the applicant pool is very, very thin.”
    The immersion teachers each originally entered the country on international student visas, which allowed them to pursue their master’s degrees and remain in the country for one year if they were working in their field.
    With those initial visas set to expire this fall, the district had to wait until April 1 to begin applying for temporary worker visas, otherwise known as H1-B.
    The primary challenge with H1-B visas, however, is that there is a limited number issued each year.
    This year, the U.S. State Department will issue only 85,000 of the temporary worker visas.
    Fortunately for the district, its immersion teachers received temporary workers visa this spring. Had they not, all three teachers would have been sent back to China and the district would be searching for new immersion instructors, Perrington said.
    So far, the district has not lost any teachers due to immigration issues, but Perrington said it’s inevitable that one immersion teacher will eventually be forced to return to China.
    Wei An, one of two teachers hired during the first year of  McIlvaine’s immersion program, traveled more than 6,700 miles to Delaware from her home in Shenyang in China’s Liaoning province on a J-1 exchange visitor visa, which allows workers such as doctors, teachers and au pairs to enter a country for a few years.
    Page 2 of 2 - An’s visa will expire next year, and so too will her time in the Caesar Rodney School District.
    An said she doesn’t want to leave McIlvaine, but she also isn’t scared about the future.
    “I love this wonderful school but I’m not nervous [about my visa expiring],” she said. “I will continue to teach [in China].”
    Despite the anxiety of not knowing whether a given teachers will be able to return, Perrington said hiring native speakers for the district’s immersion programs is still worth it.
    “We were anxious and very hopeful that we were going to get the visas because [the teachers] were dual certified in elementary education and Mandarin, plus they had a year teaching with us and had gone through the professional development the district provides,” he said.
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