WASHINGTON (AP) — The public school system in Maryland’s Prince George’s County has been ordered to repay $4 million to more than 1,000 foreign teachers it has hired, the result of an investigation by the U.S. Department of Labor.
The teachers, the vast majority from the Philippines, were hired under a visa program for foreign workers. But the Department of Labor found the teachers were illegally required to pay fees that should have been handled by their employer.
The department on Monday ordered that the teachers be reimbursed for $4.2 million in fees and fined the school system $1.7 million for its conduct. The school system may also be barred from hiring any more foreign teachers for at least two years.
The school system, Maryland’s second largest, said in a statement late Monday that it disputed the department’s findings and would appeal.
“This determination penalizes a school system that has strived to obtain qualified teachers in the same or similar manner used by other school systems throughout the country,” the statement said, also emphasizing that public school officials had cooperated with the investigation, which had been going on since 2007.
The system had been in settlement talks with the department for about six months, talks that could be reopened.
The number of Filipino teachers working in Prince George’s County has grown enormously in the past several years as officials looked outside the U.S. to fill positions. Carlo Parapara, the president of the Pilipino Educators Network, an alliance of Filipino teachers that was formed in 2010, called the teachers the victims and said the fees should be returned.
“When we were recruited initially, these fees were collected from us. Therefore, it should be returned to us,” he said in a statement.
According to the Department of Labor the affected teachers were hired between 2005 and 2010 under the H-1B temporary foreign worker visa program. Teachers paid various fees including filing fees for their visas of between $190 and $320 as well as immigration attorney fees of approximately $1,000 and placement fees of $3,500.
Approximately 700 teachers paid a $500 anti-fraud filing fee. That money was ordered returned.
In all, the Prince George’s County school system employs roughly 9,000 teachers overseeing 130,000 students, according to its website. In 2009, the average salary of a teacher with a bachelor’s degree was $59,000, while a teacher with a master’s degree could expect to earn about $79,000.
Randi Weingarten, president, of the American Federation of Teachers, said in a statement that the group has been pushing for legislation to regulate the recruitment industry. Weingarten also called the alleged illegal activity appalling.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)