Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Why penalize the innocent victims?

One who has violated the law should suffer the consequences of his or her actions. On the other hand, the victim of an offense should be compensated. But this is not the case for hundreds of Filipino teachers in Maryland.

The United States-based teachers were the victims of their employer’s violations of the working visa program. Yet, these Filipino teachers will suffer the consequences of those violations.

From 2005 until 2009, Filipino teachers were recruited to work for the Prince George County Public Schools (PGCPS) in Maryland. Most of them paid more than $10,000 to a recruitment agency to cover “processing” costs which included, among others, the cost of their working visas.

After an investigation, the US Department of Labor found that the school district had failed to comply with wage requirements as well as various violations of the conditions of the visa issuance. The employer and interested parties were given 15 days to appeal the decision dated April 4, 2011.

Strong agreement

On July 7, 2011 the Department of Labor issued a public statement announcing that an “agreement” was reached wherein the employer would reimburse teachers their back wages (about $4,000 each) and the cost of their visa petitions. The assessment came up to $4.22 million for 1,044 teachers.

Included in the agreement was a “debarment” against the employer, prohibiting them from filing new working visa petitions, renewing visa petitions that were expiring; and filing immigrant visa petitions for their employees.

Those teachers who already have immigrant green cards will not be affected by the debarment. Unfortunately, many are still holding temporary working visas. Since the agreement was reached on July 7, 2011 termination letters have already been sent to those whose visas are expiring in July and August 2011.

Debarment is intended to punish the employer but it has an adverse effect on the employees.

Depriving these teachers the opportunity to extend their visas is an unfair result of a penalty due to the employer’s misdeeds.

At the time when former President Bush signed the No Child Left Behind Law, these highly qualified Filipino teachers filled up positions and diligently practiced their professions both in non-critical and critical areas. Some of the teachers left promising careers and relocated their families. The monetary compensation in back wages and reimbursements is insignificant compared to the loss of their jobs.

They are not lawbreakers

The agreement reached between the DOL and the PGCPS appears not to have included the affected teachers during the negotiation. Instead of the agreement, a hearing on the matter should have been conducted to prove that the acts of PGCPS did not amount to a “willful” violation warranting a debarment. At the very least, the teachers who have served the children of PGCPS for many years must be exempt from the ‘debarment’ and should be allowed the opportunity to renew their visas. If not, prosecutorial discretion on the part of the Department of Homeland Security must be favorably exercised. For after all, the teachers are the victims and not the lawbreakers.

1 comment:

  1. Even the teachers themselves admit that these agencies (owned by Filipinos) must have given the wrong information to School districts around the US so that they (Arrowhead and Healthquest) can get these districts to get their services. If there is anyone to blame, it should be Healthquest and Arrowhead Manpower Agency.
    Business Process Outsourcing