International Teacher Recruitment
In December 2012, the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California ordered Universal Placement International of Los Angeles and its owner and president, Lourdes Navarro, to pay $4.5 million to 350 Filipino teachers exploited in the process of their recruitment to fill positions in Louisiana public schools. The AFT filed the lawsuit in cooperation with the Southern Poverty Law Center and the firm Covington and Burling. From the onset of the proceedings, the case established important legal precedent, with the teachers being the first plaintiff class ever to be certified under the federal Trafficking Victims Protection Act.
As pressure for comprehensive immigration reform builds, this case signifies the need for improved worker protections in our nation's temporary work visa programs. With the desire to prevent further abuses, the AFT joined with partners in the International Labor Recruitment Working Group coalition in the release of the report, "The American Dream Up for Sale: A Blueprint for Ending International Labor Recruitment Abuse." This alarming report catalogues the unjust practices and exploitation to which immigrant workers are being subjected and highlights the need for systemic reforms. To address these violations, the report outlines eight principles that should underpin the regulations in all work visa programs. Key recommendations include a national recruiter registry, public disclosure of information, and elimination of fees to workers.
AFT's advocacy on behalf of the exploited Filipino teachers began with a state-level complaint filed by the AFT and the Louisiana Federation of Teachers against the private recruiter, a twice convicted felon, who arranged the placement of Filipino teachers in positions in Louisiana schools and cheated the teachers out of thousands of dollars and withheld vital immigration paperwork in order to ensure payment. In 2010, the Louisiana State Workforce Commission ruled in the teachers' favor, ordering the recruitment agency to return $1.8 million in fees found to have been collected illegally. The ruling has been upheld on appeal by the both the district court and court of appeals. The AFT also filed a federal complaint with the U.S. Department of Labor on behalf of these teachers and the investigation of those charges is ongoing.
An overview of the issues faced by overseas-trained teachers can be found in AFT's report, "Importing Educators: Causes and Consequences of International Teacher Recruitment." The 2009 report estimated that 19,000 teachers were working in the United States on temporary visas in 2007, while highlighting cases from around the United States that demonstrated a pattern of abuse, and raised particular concerns about the role of for-profit international recruitment agencies that help school districts hire teachers from abroad.
.Recruiting agencies commonly earn between $5,000 and $20,000 for each teacher they place in a U.S. teaching position, with fees being collected from teachers or school districts, and in some cases, both. All too frequently, recruiters also have intimidated teachers, forced them into housing contracts, misrepresented their pay, charged them inflated fees, required them to use predatory lenders and threatened to pull their visas. Such practices continue because the international teacher recruitment industry is almost entirely unregulated.
"It is an outrage that these abuses are occurring in the United States," said AFT president Randi Weingarten. "The AFT is adamant that all teachers working in our school system must be fairly treated, no matter what country they are from."
On behalf of Education International, the AFT research department is now conducting a global study on teacher migration trends. As part of that effort, the union is collecting stories from other teachers who have experience with international recruitment practices. Use this form to send us your story.