School District Plans to Fly in Immigrants to Fill Jobs, Others May Follow

School districts across the nation face hurdles to filling vacant teacher positions, and the Camden City School District (CCSD) in New Jersey isn't any different. CCSD has 28 teacher positions that they've been unsuccessfully able to fill for months. To rectify this problem, they're looking to offer employment to immigrants—and other districts may follow suit.

On January 25, the district passed a resolution deciding that they would turn to the H-1B Specialty Occupations visa process to legally fill their empty positions with immigrant teachers. CCSD Superintendent Katrina McCombs told Newsweek that the school faces vacancies every year but that the pandemic has made the situation worse, particularly in the search for teaching positions that require foreign language experience.

"We have challenges with our bilingual teacher positions and our ESL (English as a Second Language) positions. Filling those. These are normally hard to fill positions, but that has been exacerbated by the pandemic," McCombs said. "This H-1B visa program that we're launching is just one of the ways that we are trying to make sure that we are wrapping support around our students who are non-native English speakers."

McCombs said that she has received queries from other districts in the region as well those in other states that have faced similar problems in filling teacher vacancies and said they were interested in the CCSD model as a potential solution.

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The pandemic has made hiring teachers an even greater challenge, and one school district in New Jersey is looking to hire immigrants for vacant roles. Here, students wear masks as a teacher instructs them at Freedom Preparatory Academy on September 10, 2020, in Provo, Utah. Photo by GEORGE FREY/AFP via Getty Images

Foreign language teachers were cited as the most challenging to fill positions in a national survey of teachers and principals, with 37 percent of public schools saying filling such roles was "very difficult" or that they "were not able" to find a candidate. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that "about 77,400 openings for high school teachers" are projected for each year over the next decade.

Despite a report from SAGE Journals finding that since the pandemic, anti-immigrant attitudes have increased worldwide, McCombs told Newsweek that the school has not yet received any backlash for its decision and has instead gotten positive feedback.

"We have not yet been pushed on 'Hey, why are you not doing a better job of recruiting individuals who are citizens already?' And if we were asked that question, I can go down the list of all the things that we have been doing," McCombs said. "[We are] committed to inclusiveness, equity, and just making sure that we are providing strong instructional achievement opportunities for all of the students that we serve."

For the trial year of the program, McCombs said the district aims to fill 10 of its 28 vacancies with immigrants. The district will prioritize filling its three bilingual vacancies and its one ESL vacancy first. McCombs said the district views Spanish-speaking teachers as its highest need but that they are also seeking candidates with other types of foreign language qualifications.

Under the H-1B visa programs, candidates must hold at least a bachelor's degree in order to receive consideration. Furthermore, employers must demonstrate that they have recruited U.S. candidates in "good faith" and were still unable to fill the roles. McCombs said checking off that requirement shouldn't be a problem—The school has recruited through job posting websites, job fairs, and at universities but has still been unable to find suitable candidates