State Department seeks end to abuses in foreign teachers program

According to the proposal, scheduled to be published in the Federal Register on Thursday, "In recent years, the teacher exchange program has been used by some sponsors in a manner that falls outside the original intent of the program. Occasionally, it has been used to fill a labor need in U.S. public and private schools rather than to further a cultural exchange."  

Sometimes schools have used the exchange program to recruit new permanent teachers, the proposal adds, who switch visas to stay in the country after the program ends. 

The State Department grants a J-1 visa to participants in its Exchange Visitor Program who come to the U.S. to teach, study or work and share their culture. Participants are expected to return home after the program, and must be selected by a sponsor organization in the U.S., such as a school district, government agency or nonprofit. 

According to the State Department, nearly 1,500 foreign teachers took part in the program in 2012. 

According to a February post on the Department of Education's blog, "Our nation struggles with teacher shortages across many subjects and with developing teachers for students with special needs." 

The State Department wants to make sure that foreign teachers are not being used to fill in the gaps. 

In its proposed changes to the program, the department wants to require that exchange teachers do a project or presentation to share their culture each year, that they have a college degree in their subject matter, have their English skills vetted in an interview, and that sponsors are more transparent about the total expected cost of the teacher's stay in America.

The proposal also reduces the amount of experience exchange teachers need, from three years of teaching or related experience to two years of full-time teaching. 

According to the department's proposal, "Such exchanges enable visitors to have a heightened understanding of U.S. culture, society, and teaching practices at the primary and secondary levels, and allow U.S. students who lack opportunities to travel abroad to have early, meaningful relationships with individuals from other cultures."