Recent Rulings Uphold Rights of Philippine Teachers

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With the assistance of the AFT and partner unions in the Philippines, the rights of teachers who came to the United States on temporary visas were affirmed recently in rulings in two countries.

The rulings involve more than 300 teachers who were recruited to come to Louisiana from the Philippines to teach in public schools. The AFT began assisting the teachers last year and helped them file complaints with the U.S. Labor Department and Louisiana state labor officials. (See related story.) In the complaints, the teachers said that their passports were held by Universal Placement International (UPI), the recruiter that brought them to the United States, and that they were threatened with deportation unless they paid UPI thousands of dollars in excessive and illegal fees.

Although the federal complaint is still pending, a Louisiana court last month upheld the decision of the Louisiana Workforce Commission ordering UPI to repay the teachers about $1.8 million for illegally obtained fees and operating an employment service without a proper license. (See related story.)

The situation underscores the vulnerabilities of a growing number of teachers. Each year, U.S. school systems use the H-1B visa program to recruit teachers to fill hard-to-staff jobs in subjects such as math, foreign languages and special education. An estimated 19,000 migrant teachers now work in U.S. schools. Our union represents thousands of H-1B teachers, a number of whom have assumed leadership roles in AFT locals.

Meanwhile, in the Philippines, that country's Overseas Employment Administration ruled on May 9 that the Filipino company that partnered with UPI to send the teachers to the United States had engaged in misrepresentation in connection with recruitment of workers. In addition to ordering the company to reimburse 10 teachers for illegal fees, the agency banned both companies—the Philippines-based firm and UPI—from participating in any recruitment activities involving Filipino workers. [AFL-CIO Now, John See]

May 31, 2011