Effective Practices : Human Resources
Human Resources Section 9
Note: All schools surveyed are located in the United States. Information on the immigration laws and practices for schools in Canada and Mexico is not provided at this time.
1. Do schools frequently employee individuals that are not citizens of this country?
2. What are the various ways in which schools have supported the immigration process for these teachers?
3. What are the biggest challenges that need to be overcome or recognized when seeking to employ foreign citizens? How have these challenges been met?
4. What are the aspects of the efforts in the immigration area that are most positive or productive for the school?
5. What are the underlying philosophies that make schools effective in this area?
Do schools frequently employ individuals that are not citizens of this country?
All the schools surveyed have employed teachers who are not citizens of the United States, and each has provided varying degrees of administrative and financial support for that immigration process.
What are the various ways in which schools have supported the immigration process for these teachers?
In each case the school hired an experienced immigration attorney to assist with the process. Most teachers are brought into the United States on an H1B visa, a special program that allows professionals such as teachers to work in the United States for three years. It is possible to receive an additional three-year extension after the completion of the first period. Additional extensions are not available after six years, so it becomes necessary to pursue permanent residency if a teacher desires to stay longer at the school.
The school typically handles much of the interface between the attorney and the teacher, allowing the teacher to feel supported by the school community even before she begins work. Most schools charge one individual with the responsibility for overseeing the process and keeping communication on track between the attorney and the employee. Most often this person is the school administrator.
In addition to providing logistical support, many school provide some sort of financial backing for the immigrating teacher. Practices here vary widely, as the following approaches used by four schools illustrate:
School 1. If the school determines that the foreigner is the best candidate for the job then an offer is made to support the person in the immigration process. If the person does not have the money to pay, the school will advance the fees and then do payroll deductions to allow repayment over an extended period of time. Two times this approach worked very well, but in the third case the teacher was dismissed with a sizable portion of the funds advanced still unpaid.
Schools that advance fees on the employee’s behalf need to recognize that the fees are virtually uncollectable if the employee’s work at the school does not continue.
School 2. A policy was created last year under which the school advances to the employee all fees related to the immigration process. The fees are forgiven after three years of service, and prorated for shorter periods of employment. So far the school has not asked anyone to repay these fees.
School 3. The school makes a decision on whether to participate or provide immigration services based on the needs of the school. If the best candidate is one that requires immigration support, then the school will work together with the employee to obtain the necessary visa.
The employee pays for all the legal services and the processing fees. The school may put up the money on the employee’s behalf and then allows the employee to repay the amount over time through payroll deductions. The school will also assist the employee with the permanent residency (green card) process.
School 4. The school is willing to participate in and pay for the immigration process whenever it identifies a qualified candidate.
What are the biggest challenges that need to be overcome or recognized when seeking to employ foreign citizens? How have these challenges been met?
Working with the Attorney
Schools have learned to consult with an immigration attorney very early in the interviewing process. Some have had the unfortunate experience of losing a candidate because the attorney’s help was not sought early enough in the process so that documents could be completed properly and matters expedited.
The attorney can also help in reviewing a candidate’s background before he or she is even brought over for an interview. It is important to be sure that someone’s educational credentials will meet the requirements set by our country for issuing an H1B visa.
Working at a distance can be tricky. The candidates are far away, and are often nervous. This is a big step for a candidate and it’s important to provide them with a feeling of colleagueship, even if it’s long distance. It can also take time to get the necessary documents such as copies of diplomas.
Many foreign nationals do not have a Bachelor of Arts degree, a requirement of the H1B immigration process. It is often necessary to have an independent service verify that the employee’s education and teaching experience constitute a BA equivalent. This equivalency certification process takes time. In some schools the BA equivalency is checked out before a final hiring decision is made, speeding the process somewhat.
Time and Expertise
It’s important to recognize the long time frame required by the immigration process. The time frame requires that the school be able to plan ahead, and that it be able to respond quickly to the questions and issues that inevitably come up along the way.
The expedited processing now available for teacher candidates has been a big help; processing times are much better than they used to be and the ability to get someone in to the country in time to start school in September is much improved. The new fast track system for expedited processing of visas costs $1000 extra, but it is well worth the additional charge due to the speed with which visas are processed.
The technical nature of this work really requires that one person on the school’s staff be appointed as the contact person for all immigration matters. This allows someone to build up expertise, and can help minimize the frustrations inherent in the immigration process.
The administration of schools is often understaffed, and immigration work is very time consuming. It’s a challenge to fit it all in and there is a lot riding on doing it well, both for the candidate and for the school
Some schools have used J visas in the past. This has allowed someone to come as a teacher trainee for 18 months. The individual gets good experience and the process can be expedited quickly. However, if the school would like the individual to stay longer then the H1B and permanent residency processes must still be initiated.
Costs and Other Support
Flying people back and forth to interview and then to re-enter the country with the immigration papers is a costly process. When these expenses are added to the cost of legal counsel and the immigration fees, they can quickly add up to a sizable amount. In the case of a class teacher it is probable that the school will need to pay for two H1B filings (they are only good for three years) and for permanent residency filing.
The time and expense associated with the interview process has also been a challenge. There were several candidates with good credentials and good telephone interviews that came for an interview, only to be a poor candidate when met in person. The school is considering using videoconferencing in the future before flying someone over.
The school must be clear about what it is willing to take on. In addition to the time intensive work associated with the immigration process, the new employee will often need help finding housing and furnishings, securing transportation, and learning the culture. There may also be a need to advance funds for a rent deposit.
Another issue is the requirement that anyone brought in must be paid the going rate for a person in a comparable position with comparable experience. This can be a challenge for schools whose salary structures are lower than the market rate for teacher compensation at other private and public schools in the area.
Due to the costs involved the school must decide if this is the best use of funds. Being really clear about this up front is vital so that the people who need to support the decision can live with the outcome later.
What are the aspects of the efforts in the immigration area that are most positive or productive for the school?
Working to bring in foreigners is a great thing for a school. It opens the possibility of bringing in people from other schools in other parts of the world, adding richness and a cultural diversity to the community. The school community feels fortunate to have a very international faculty, both those people brought in by the school and those that came in on their own.
The school recognizes the positive things that have come into the community through their international faculty members. These gifts are consciously recognized, and the school community likes them and talks about them.
The teachers that are hired feel that the school is really behind them; they arrive feeling tremendously supported. The community sees that the school is looking worldwide to find the best teachers for their students. A willingness to search internationally allows the school to make connections with other anthroposophical initiatives worldwide. The faculty and students benefits from having faculty members from another culture and part of the world.
This work has positively impacted the way in which administration is viewed in the school. It is clear that the teachers feel very supported by the administration, and they are appreciative of that support.
What are the underlying philosophies that make schools effective in this area?
It is vital to have an established relationship with a firm that specializes in this area of the law. Often times a school needs to ask questions early on, long before a person becomes a serious candidate, and a good law firm can be a tremendous help. Frequently firms provide these early consultation services at no charge, knowing that when the school has a serious candidate that the firm will get the business.
Having a standing relationship with an immigration law firm is very helpful; they get to know the school and what is unique about Waldorf education. A firm that has forms and general information easily accessible on the web is also a big plus, allowing schools to stay current without having to maintain a continuously changing library of forms and manuals.
One school noted how happy it has been to provide payment for these services for its new teachers. There is a feeling that the more things the school can do for its colleagues, the better it will be for everyone. Paying for these services on behalf of the employee should be viewed as an investment in a colleague’s long-term relationship with the school, and should never be viewed with resentment.
Another school agreed, saying, “Making funding for immigration fees available to employees is critical to the success of this program. The high cost of living in a big city puts enough pressure on salaries without expecting an employee to also be able to afford the costs associated with the immigration itself.”
Conversely, another school noted that their applicants really want to come to the U.S. and to a region with four seasons and a rural atmosphere, and those candidates are willing to pay the fees associated with that privilege. The school is clear in its conversations with applicants that these fees will present a financial burden.
Supporting new employees through the immigration process is a good thing. It adds diversity and a richness of experience that is positive in a school community. Schools should not afraid of the process, and with competent counsel they are able to make good things happen for all involved.
Having one person on staff that is the immigration point person is important. This allows someone to gain the necessary expertise, and to help the prospective employee feel held and supported by the school during a stressful time.
It is vital that the person coordinating the immigration work between the attorney and the employee has good follow through. There must be willingness to go a few extra miles, as this is often what it takes to help make someone’s transition into the community successful.